on software patents – light at the end of the tunnel?

It seems that finally someone in Brussels has seen the light.

I just stumbled across a somewhat lengty but nonetheless well-written and even for
non-laywer types like me understandable working paper
from economist and former French prime minister Michel Rocard, who is – and that’s probably
the most important thing – the European Parliament’s draftsperson or “rapporteur” on the directive,
and so it is likely that his views will be taken very seriously. (Well likeliness of this kind of
things has more than once proven to be worthless, thanks mr
“I-can-ignore-both-my-national-and-the-European-parliament”-Brinkhorst, but there’s hope
…). I’ve ripped a couple of lines from the paper which should give a fairly good idea what Rocard
wants to see as directive with respect to the software patents issue, here we go:

Software is in fact the combination in an original work of one or more algorithms, that
is to
say, a set of mathematical formulae. As Albert Einstein has said, a mathematical formula
is
not patentable. It is by nature an idea, like a book, a set of words, or a chord in
music.

[…]

For that work to be communicable and have an effect, a part must start to move, an
electrical,
radio or light signal must be produced, data must appear on a screen, or some physical
effect
must be unleashed. What is evidently patentable are, firstly, the sensors and, secondly,
the
effectors that supply the computer with data processable by the software and that obtain
from
the data ultimately produced by the software in its language a physical effect
constituting the
technical so lut ion to the technical problem posed. The distinction that we are
after thus
separates the immaterial world from the material, or rather, from the physical
world.

[…]

“Technical field” means an industrial field of application
requiring the use of controllable forces of nature
to obtain predictable results in the physical world.

[…]

To enable the directive to permit the patenting of
computer-generated inventions while
preventing the patentability of software programs, it will be necessary to address the
following points:

  • […] we need to specify that the
    processing of the data should not be regarded as a technical field within the
    meaning of
    patent law, and that innovations in the processing of data do not constitute
    inventions
    within the meaning of patent
  • […] to secure interoperability, strengthen the confirmation of the rights
    arising from Articles 5
    and 6 of Directive 91/250, by ensuring that when use of a patented technology is
    needed
    for the sole purpose of ensuring interoperability between two systems, such use
    should not
    be regarded as infringing a patent.

As you read, he makes some pretty good points there, so let’s hope this amendment will
become reality. For the mere humans that don’t fully understand the legislative procedures of the
European Community, in short, an absolute majority of the members of the European Parliament in the
second reading on June 6 is necessary to prevent Rocard’s working paper from entering into force as
directive. (See Wikipedia for the gory
details on European legislature.)

On a personal note, I really would like this directive to become reality, in the
hope that I’ll not lose my freedom as an Open Source software developer, and that I will maybe at
some point regain a little trust in all the effects the process of European integration brings to
us.

very disappointed by 3Com.

I just bought myself a shiny new wireless adapter, a 3Com OfficeConnect 802.11g
(3CRWE154G72), which I thought has native and good support under Linux through the prism54 driver. However, after fiddling a
bit around with the drivers, I came to the conclusion that 3Com has fooled their users. They changed
the chip inside the card and kept PCI and FCC ID the same: Result: The card is not supported
although it seems so in the first place. Thank you 3Com, you just lost a customer. :-(

To save other users the same disappointment, I hereby recommend: Do not
buy 3com OfficeConnect wireless cards, you have a good chance that it’s not supported although 3Com
tries to make you think that.
Very bad behaviour, it’s a shame for such a big company to
let their users out in the cold. 3Com also does nothing to get their hardware
supported in free operating systems, so again: Do not buy 3Com hardware!

kgnuvd.

a screenshot of kgnuvd
In other news, inspired by some dutch KDE people, I began hacking on kgnuvd three
weeks ago. Kgnuvd is a frontend to gnuvd, a small console application to look up words in the “van
Dale”, the online edition of the famous dutch dictionary. Kgnuvd is done in Python with PyKDE and is
a good example how easy it is to write KDE (or Qt) applications in Python. The GUI is done in
Qtdesigner. KGnuvD queries the online van Dale indirectly via gnuvd and features a dcop interface,
so it’s even scriptable. Of course, kgnuvd is published under the terms of the GPL. You can KgnuvD,
but be aware, it’s still a little beta yet, so it might aswell eat your cat, burn your fingers – or
just work ™. I set up a small site where more information about kgnuvd can be found.