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Another week, another triumph for the Piratenpartei in a German election; this time, the IP-sceptic group took around 7.5% of the vote in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s biggest state, and so secured 18 seats in its Parliament. This is the fourth state election in which the Pirates have secured legislative representation and with nationwide elections set for next year, the chances are that for the first time the party will find itself sitting in the Bundestag. Clearly, it can now count on the support of millions of German voters, even if the percentage it receives in actual elecitons tends to be a little lower than the amounts it scores in opinion polls.
It is possible that the Pirates will end up holding the balance of power should the federal poll not produce an outright win for either the ruling CDU/FDP coalition, or the alternative SPD/Green grouping. Should that happen, and it is currently looking likely, IP owners may have to start taking the contents of the Pirate Party manifesto a lot more seriously than they seem to be doing at the moment. When they do, patent and copyright owners in Europe’s most populous and economically powerful country may have a few sleepless nights.
With copyright, the Pirate Party wants to see current terms of protection significantly reduced. It also demands that “copying, providing access to, storing and using creative products for non-commercial purposes must not just be legalized, but actively promoted to improve the public availability of information, knowledge and culture, because this is a prerequisite for the social, technological and economic development of our society”.
Non-commercial purposes is not defined in the manifesto, but we are told that: “Today’s management of exploitation rights … is not adequate for creating a fair balance between justified economic interests of originators and the public interest in access to knowledge and culture. The process behind a creative product usually draws heavily from the public wealth of intellectual creations. The reintroduction of creative products into the public domain is therefore not only justified, but essential to ensure the sustainability of human creativity.” My guess, therefore, is that non-commercial use would not have a narrow scope.
When it comes to patents, the German Pirates do not demand an absolute ban on everything. However, what they do say is this: “As we transition from the industrial age to the information age, global patent laws are becoming obstacles to innovation rather than incentives.” As a result: “We demand that the patent system be reformed or replaced by more adequate regulations. Under no circumstances must it be expanded by regulations that further inhibit innovation.”
There is bad news for research-based pharma companies: “Patenting of trivial inventions or abuse of patents to block progress must be prevented under all circumstances. This is especially true for the pharmaceutics industry. The large cash requirements and the monopolistic structures in this market require reorganization to put society’s resources to good use instead of wasting them because of blockades for the benefit of individuals. Patents on pharmaceutics also have very objectionable effects from an ethical point of view.”
But other areas are also in the Pirates’ sights: We reject patents on organisms and genes, on business ideas and on software, because they have unreasonable and unjustifiable consequences, because they obstruct the advancement of the knowledge society, because they privatize public goods without compensation and without any emergency and because they do not constitute inventions in the original sense.”
For trademark and trade secret owners the news seems to be a little better: they do not get a mention and can probably rest easy! At least for now.
What is noteworthy about the IP aspects of the Pirate Party’s manifesto is that they come at the beginning. After the general introductory clauses they are, in fact, the first and second items. This indicates where they sit in terms of priorities for members, if not all supporters. Should it get to a negotiation after an inconclusive general election, therefore, it would not be a huge surprise if reform of both the copyright and patent system in Germany – and by extension the rest of the EU – were not major discussion points in talks with prospective suitors.
It is hard to believe that mainstream political parties would agree to all of the Pirates’ demands, but it is certainly possible that in order to get their hands on power, they will agree to some of those it holds most dear. Unless, that is, they are given very compelling reasons not to. Have patent and copyright owners in Germany – domestic and international – provided these yet? Given European IP owners' widerspread complacency and lack of political nous, I have my doubts.
IP politics, Copyright, Patents