Terminate the patent trolls before they succeed in destroying the future of the Internet

The levies paid by the developing world to US patent trolls helped secure the support of most of world (counting the vote at the WCIT in Dubai by number of nations and by population) for giving control of the Internet to the ITU. Add the subsequent Snowden effect and the supporters of the ITU look set to win any vote in the United Nations on the future governance of the Internet.   

A commitment to the reform of patents and copyright to create a global IPR framework that is fit for the 21st century is therefore likely to be a significant part of the price of preserving the Internet as an open and evolving network of networks. The other main component will, of course, be the reform of addressing and security – so as to assure Brazil, China, India and Russia (as well as their smaller supporters) that the US and its Nato Allies will in future have no more ability to spy on their traffic than “they” have to spy on “ours”. Think for a moment about that double-edged sword and its implications. Hence the reason I was so pleased to be able to host the contribution to debate by Jan Malinowski on the Council of Europe yesterday.

Whether the US is ready to pay that price (and how far it has the whole-hearted support of its former alllies) will begin to emerge during the Cyber Security Summit in Seoul next week .  Later in the year, at the IGF in Bali, we will discover whether “Bilderberg – like” group that really runs the Internet (a cartel masquerading as anarchy) feels that the loss of revenue they face is worth the effort of curbing the patent trolls and of opening the Internet to genuine choice and competition. Earlier this week, at the UK IGF, it was suggested that the incomprehensible IGF website, timetable and consultation routines are actually part of an ongoing a conspiracy to conceal its importance as “cover” for meetings which give “legitimacy” to BIG (Bilderbeg Internet Group) decisions. [Every good conspiracy theory should have a leavening of reality – among the Chief Executives on the list for this year’s Bilderberg meeting were those for Amazon, Google and Palantir. Few of that seniority publicly attends the IGF but most of the “cartel” send their key back room players, albeit they are often too busy “having meetings that never happened” to attend the plenaries].

“Those who fail to turn up, get stitched up” is a variation on the theme of this blog, regarding the fate of the “silent majority“. I suspect that those who believe that the IGF this year, in Bali, will be make or break are correct. Power will pass to the ITU if the IGF focuses purely on “cuddly” topics such as social inclusion or on-line safety.   

Others are busy on the effect of the Snowden affair, including on whether anyone can faith in organisations which structure their system administration in ways that allow a Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden access to such a quantity of sensitive information, let alone give similar access to so many . I intend to leave this topic until I have been able to start reading the entries for the competition on rebuilding confidence . I hope that at least some of the 30 registrants will be putting forward ideas in this space. 

Instead I would like to address the damage that the Patent and IPR trolls have done to the Internet. I have just done a posting on Conservative Home‘s “Heresy of the Week: the case for abolishing patents“.   

The first “western” case on IPR led to Columba being forced into exile to convert as many souls to Christianity as had died in battle when he contested the verdict of “to every calf its cow, to every book its copy” after he copied Finian’s psalter. From about the same time is a Gaelic saying that roughly translates as “wealth is created when one man creates what another covets, be it a sword or a song”.

The Statute of Monopolies (1624) probably had the term of patent protection about right for the fast moving 17th Century (14 years). The Statute of Anne (1710) extended that protection to printed works (provided copies were lodged for scholars in the Universities of the day).

In the 18th century those who failed to use their patent protection to bring product to market or to make copyright works available lost their protection and Bolton and Watt failed on all their attempts at patent extension for lack of novelty.

The current “Disney protection” for songs and software in the slow moving 21st century and a regime that enables trolls (who never brought anything to market) to destroy, for example, Blackberry (it never recovered from the legalised plundering of $650 million from its development funds by NTP) helps why over a quarter of all Internet downloads are said to be in breach of copyright and western patents are ignored in the developing world.

We have to once again bring the terms and conditions for IPR protection forward into the 18th Century (let alone the 21st) if we are to regain moral support for their enforcement. But we also need to address the issue of protection for those who may have to spend a decade or more meeting safety (or other) testing requirements before they can launch that which they have invented or developed. A side effect of our failure to do so is all that crap software that is rushed to market before it is fit for use.

I should perhaps add that in a past existence I was one of the founding directors of FAST and one of the team that brought about the extension of copyright to cover computer software in the UK. For over ten years I was proud of our achievement. I now hang my head in shame. Experience entails living with the consequences of y our mistakes.