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Siemens patent voted software patent of the year 2006

Internet users selected the monopoly right for data exchange via mobile phone as "Software patent of the year 2006" – Criticizing the European Patent Office for approving thousands of software patents

November 7, 2006. Internet users voted the patent monopoly of http://www.siemens.com/index.jsp Siemens AG for the data transfer per mobile phone (EP0836787) to be "Software patent of the year 2006". With roughly a third of all online submitted votes it receives the nosoftwarepatents-award 2006. The runner-up is software patent EP1056268, based on which Lucent Technologies claims property rights for the transfer of e-mails with attachments.

Both patents as well as five other software patents were up for vote in the context of the nosoftwarepatents-award information campaign sponsored by 1&1 Internet, GMX, MySQL, Red Hat, CAS, and Jedox. All seven patents had been voted "winners of the month" by Internet users in the course of 2006 and were thus nominated for the final nosoftwarepatents-award 2006.

According to the patent specifications individuals using their mobile phones for business related data transfers violate the "Software patent of the year 2006"registered by Siemens, which was previously elected "Software patent of July". It refers to a "process for transferring data packages in accordance with a package date service within a cellular mobile communications network designed for the language and data transfer". Besides Internet surfing via mobile phone and data transfers via WLAN, it also applies to the use of mobile phones for sending e-mails, SMS and MMS.

More than eight years after Siemens submitted an application for this patent it was finally granted by the European Patent Office in 2004. Even an objection issued by the cellular service provider Sagem, which, for reasons the company would not comment on, was withdrawn at the end of 2005, could not prevent the approval. The approval of the software patent contradicts the European Patent Convention from 1973 which defines software as not patentable. "Our campaign refutes the argument that this and other granted European software patents are exceptions",so campaign manager Harald Talarczyk. According to estimates, the European Patent Office has granted more than 25,000 software patents.

Disregarded patentability criteria

Irrespective of the exclusion of software for patentability as decreed in the European Patent Convention, Prof. Joachim Henkel, specialist for Technology and Innovation Management at the TU München (Technical University Munich) sees cogent reasons against the approval of patent EP0836787. In his point of view the patent includes specifications which "having regard to the state of the art are obvious to a person skilled in the art" and thus not patentable (Article 56 European Patent Convention). For example, he considers it obvious for experts "to replicate the logic of electronic circuits by means of software" and concludes: "For such 'inventions' patents should therefore not be granted. And for the same reason I also do not consider patent EP0836787 grantable since it merely applies a process common for landline networks to cellular networks". Since the "patent arms race" merely "appears to be in the interest of the applicants" he states: "A stringent interpretation of patentability criteria would benefit everyone – not to mention the fundamental question if software should be patentable at all. The widespread assumption that more patents mean more innovations is wrong." (full commentary)

Siemens is one of the largest patent law firms in the world.

Siemens AG declined to comment on patent EP0836787 obtaining the nosoftwarepatents-award. For several years now the corporation has aggressively increased its software patent applications. According to its statements Siemens initially submits an application for these property rights "in the US because of the landmark legal system for software patents there" before submitting its application in Europe. This, according to Siemens, applies "even more to patents for so-called 'business models' or in other words: patents for electronic business solutions." Not without reason Siemens describes its own patent department as "one of the largest patent law firms worldwide", which, in case of infringements on its patents, would not shy away from "legal disputes" in order to secure its market position.

Impending software patent enforcement in Europe

"Should the 'European Patent Litigation Agreement' (EPLA), which is forcefully promoted by the European Commission, go in effect in its present form , Siemens will be able to enforce patent EP0836787 all over Europe. This would have a substantial impact on countless European cellular phone providers and service providers", says campaign manager Harald Talarczyk.