EU Prize for Patent Troll of the Year?

Owner of broad e-commerce claims nominated “European Inventor of the Year”.

Each year the European Patent Office (EPO) and the European Commission celebrate the “European Inventor of the Year” Award. The EPO has published a number of video interviews with nominees, among them Peter Landrock, a pioneer in broad e-commerce patents and their application to infringment litigation in Europe.

UPDATE 2010-04-28: Winners: Landrock is not among them.

On the EPO’s Youtube channel there are now a few filmlets where nominees of the European Inventor Award are interviewed inter alia about the importance of patents for stimulating progress, and the answers meet the expectations.

As can be heard from his interview, Peter Landrock, nominee 2010 for lifetime achievement, obtained patents for more or less cryptography-related business methods in the area of e-commerce, e-government and the like, and has built a company around these patents. He explains that patents are crucial for innovation in his field. According to Landrock, good ideas are scarce and come only as occasional inspirations on the basis of long-term investments which therefore need patent protection.

Most other nominees and all corporate ones transmit the same message, when prompted by an EPO question about the “importance of IP” for their work.

While enthusiasm for the EPO’s products will not harm anyone’s chances to be chosen as winner of the EPO’s beauty contest, the message that patents were helpful to the patentees inverviewed by the EPO here is probably genuine. But the conclusion, which a naive audience is induced to jump to, that patents were helpful to innovators and innovation in general or in each of the industries represented here, is patently wrong.

The very argument of Landrock can be turned against the conclusion: if good ideas come as occasional by-products of toil and sweat, it would be bad policy to grant monopolies on those ideas. Instead it is better to secure people’s ownership of the fruits of their toil and sweat by means fast, cheap and narrow IP rights such as copyright, trademarks and business secret, and to allow free competition to gradually devaluate and disseminate the ideas, which more and more players will discover independently of one another as time passes.

It would be interesting for us to look more closely at the EPO patents and the enforcement practise of Mr. Landrock and Cryptomanthic at this occasion.

From the information gathered so far, a nomination for “lifetime achievement” in the NoSoftwarePatents Award is not to be excluded either. One candidate might be the main claim of his base patent:

A method of issuing an electronic negotiable document (END) comprising: creating as data an END and storing this in a tamper-resistant document carrier, the document carrier containing a unique public-secret key pair for signing and verifying and a unique document carrier identifier; signing the unique document-carrier identifier, the END and an END identifier using the secret key of the public-secret key pair and storing the result in the document carrier.

To be investigated further.

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