December 10, 2005
Europe Proposes Terrible IP Precedent

(Via Atrios)

The New York Times reports that European lawmakers are proposing legislation that would criminalize patent violation and impose prison time on patent violators.

Tim Frain, director of intellectual property at Nokia, called the inclusion of patents within the scope of a European law "ludicrous." Mr. Frain, who is based outside London, advises managers at Nokia on the risks of infringing existing patents when they develop new functions for mobile phones.

Mr. Frain indicated that patent holders wanted protection, but not penalties of imprisonment as they test the boundaries of other patents.

"It's never black and white," he said of patents. "Sometimes third-party patents are so weak that I advise managers to go ahead and innovate because after making a risk analysis we feel we can safely challenge the existing patent."

He added, "But with this law, even if I'm certain the existing patent is no good, the manager involved would be criminally liable."

What he said. This move would absolutely have a chilling effect on innovation, especially given how poorly vetted most technological or conceptual/business practice patents are. Mandating prison time for accidentally trampling on a pre-existing patent (which may well be flawed) is an absolutely terrible idea.