Joff Wild

The IPjur blog reports that Pieter Hintjens has stood down as the president of the FFII to be replaced by Spaniard Alberto Barrionuevo. And it does not look like it was an entirely happy handover. For those of you not familiar with the FFII, it has been the most prominent and effective campaigning organisation against software patents in Europe. Under Hintjens’ presidency it had also widened the scope of its remit somewhat to question many of the basic assumptions underpinning the patent system in Europe and has especially trained its eye on what it sees as an undemocratic and unaccountable EPO, as well as the EPLA.

Hintjens, who I have met on several occasions and have corresponded with quite regularly, is an impressive figure who has won a lot of admirers for not coming across as a dyed-in-the-wool, no compromise anti-patent zealot. He has also proved to be remarkably effective in shaping the agenda and was one of the leading lights behind the EUPACO initiative which seeks to bring together different stakeholders in the patent debate in order to find common ground between them. He also shared a platform with David Kappos of IBM last year as he made a tour of Europe seeking to explain the thinking behind Big Blue’s European Open Innovation Patent proposals. The fact that Kappos felt comfortable doing this speaks volumes for Hintjens’ standing; but seeing their president speak alongside the man who heads the IP law group at the world’s largest patent holder, and - in broad terms - welcome what he had to say, may not have impressed the more militant elements of the FFII.

I understand that Hintjens plans to carry on speaking out about patents in Europe and will carry on working on the EUPACO events, but as a private individual without the clout the FFII presidency brings, he will probably find it harder to have an impact than he has in the past. For their part, I can’t help feeling the FFII may end up ruing the loss of a man who helped to make the group relevant in the corridors of power. Certainly, Alberto Barrionuevo has big boots to fill.

This has all the potential to be a very big year for patents in Europe. The EPO is beginning to explore significant changes to its practices and procedures, while the continent’s politicians are inching towards an agreement about a single patent jurisdiction. I know that the FFII under Hintjens would have had a lot to say about both, most of it very critical I have no doubt. I also believe that a lot of important people would have listened to what the FFII was saying. We will see if that is still the case. But if I were a patent owner in Europe looking to influence the decision making process – or part of an embryonic European IP owners organisation – I would have a slight spring in my step today.