Joff Wild

It did not take long for the predictable condemnation of the European Commission's new patent proposals to come from the FFII. Apparently, the ideas put forward yesterday are going to make life a lot easier for US multinationals if they decide to sue small European IT firms, although the press release does not explain why this should be. I think it is because it will be cheaper to litigate in Europe if the plans put forward by the Commission are eventually accepted, which is a glorious piece of logic. Presumably, the FFII believes it suits small European companies much more to face litigating in a number of European counntries at the same time.

It is also interesting to see just how many times the press release refers to the US and US companies - I counted eight mentions in six paragraphs and just look at the headline! It has been a constant tactic of the FFII to equate European patent reform with American multinationals and it was something which worked very successfully in the debate over the CII Directive - crude anti-Americanism, of course, being a mainstay of a powerful section of European political opinion. By associating patent reform initiatives with the US, you have a much better chance of defeating them. There is also the essential reference to the introduction of US-style litigation into Europe, although there is no mention of introducing discovery, jury trials, triple damages or anything similar in the Commission’s proposals. Some would say that the FFII is cynically using fear of the US litigation system to spread doubts about patent reform.

But the fact is, all is fair in love, war and politics. And the FFII is nothing if it is not a political organisation. It can be counted on to undertake a vigorous Europe-wide offensive, which many inside the closeted world of patents will believe is based on misinformation and distortion. However, the FFII’s audience is not such people; instead, it is targetting the politicians who make the decisions and, to an extent, the general public, and neither group is noted for its patent expertise. So, if those that support reform want it to happen, they are going to have to develop arguments which are accessible and understandable to non-experts. That means being able to produce surveys, studies, case histories and a roster of CEOs from European companies willing to explain why reform is necessary.

The FFII will play its role perfectly (note the study it is due to publish in May, which will show how patents have slowed down innovation in the US), so will those inside the world of patents who are happy with the status quo. It is down to advocates for reform to up their game. If they don’t, nothing will change. Indeed, if the FFII has its way, even the system that Europe has now could be under threat. No-one can say they have not been warned.