July 10, 2006

Commission cheats European SMEs in patent consultation

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Brussels, 10 July 2006. The Commission made an undercover move to get more “useful” answers following the 12 April closing date of its Patent Policy consultation. It sought out small firms across Europe who had used the patent system. It then provided these firms with new documentation and specialist assistance to help them write individual answers. None of the firms answering the online consultation got this help. But when the software firms in this new group came to the same conclusions as the FFII, the Commission concluded that these firms were “lacking knowledge about the patent system”.

FFII researcher Benjamin Henrion, who uncovered the facts says, “The Commission published its procedures for the consultation, and on this basis many hundreds of people invested time and money to answer. At the FFII we invested several hundred man days to prepare a collective answer supported by over a thousand SMEs. Now we learn that the Commission changed the rules, after the close of the consultation.”

“It selected over 600 SMEs who were known to hold patents or be involved in patent litigation, and helped them to answer by providing expert assistance. Finally, it discounted our collective answers, and promoted its own SME answers”, he continues. FFII president Pieter Hintjens adds: “If the Commission wanted to delay the proceedings to get more SME input, it should have followed our recommendations.”

During the consultation, the FFII documented many faults with the consultation in an open letter, and made suggestions for fixing these. Hintjens continues: “The Commission’s behaviour is inconsistent with its pretended role as a neutral party. It puts a strong shadow over the credibility of the consultation procedure and any results the Commission may announce.”

Ironically, the responses from the Commission’s ICT SME sample nevertheless match the FFII’s conclusion. They see the danger of software patents being legalized European-wide by the back door via both the Community Patent and the EPLA initiatives. The Commission however discredits this opinion by claiming these SMEs lack understanding of the patent system.

“Speaking as an SME, I’m outraged that while I had to spend huge amounts of time trying to understand this document, some patent-holding non-producing entity got secret financial assistance from the Commission to write an answer” concludes Hintjens, who is also CEO of iMatix Corporation.

Background information

The Commission contacted over 170 European Information Centres (IECs) in over 19 countries to find the SMEs with the desired profiles (either used or wanted to use the patent system, or have been involved in patent litigation). They were invited to a presentation on the topic, and later either filled in their consultation with the help of IP specialists, or the EIC filled it on for them during a phone interview.

Links

Contact Information

Benjamin Henrion
FFII Brussels
+32-2-414 84 03 (fixed)
+32-484-56 61 09 (mobile)
bhenrion at ffii.org
(French/English)

About the FFII

The FFII is a not-for-profit association registered in twenty European countries, dedicated to the development of information goods for the public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, open standards. More than 850 members, 3,500 companies and 100,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing.