The Pirate Party Responds

Following his post about the UK Pirate Party's recently announced manifesto, at which a few of the IPKat's readers threw some well-aimed comments, the PPUK's prospective parliamentary candidate for Worcester, Andrew Robinson, has written to the IPKat with the following reply:
"Thanks for taking the time to look at what the Pirate Party UK are saying. I'm not at all surprised to see that people much better informed than us are picking holes in our manifesto. If the message that "It would be safer to start correcting some excesses in IP law than to wait that the crowds take over the lead." is acted on in parliament, then we've made a big, big step towards our objectives.

It is, as I'm sure practitioners in this field know better than anyone, fiendishly difficult to talk about copyright and patents in a language that the general public can relate to, and therefore the broad statements in our manifesto will have loopholes and gray areas.

I'd like to answer a few of the points raised, not in a political argumentative sense, but in an honest attempt to work with skilled people in the field to start a debate that helps us uncover the "few nuggets of wisdom buried in a huge dungpile of nonsense." and polish them up. Yes, we openly admit that our position "fails to recognise basic commitments under international treaties.", because international treaties can be unhelpful and outdated. The US survived very well outside the Berne convention for a very long time, and several far eastern countries have proved the economic benefits of lax application of international law. Yes, s.70 CDPA does provide something near identical to our explanation of the impact of turning copyright into a commercial exploitation right, our dissatisfaction with the narrowness of the word 'broadcast' in that statute was lost in the process of boiling down our thinking on it into a user-friendly manifesto pledge. I'll make sure we don't make this mistake again. Yes, we do realise that biotech patents would have a problem with our approach, but that's intentional, we are against biotech patents. Yes, we realise that covering all claims of a patent in a physical model is difficult, that's entirely intentional, it's our proposed solution to overbroad and vague submarine patents.
I'm actually very excited to read Simon Bradshaw's comment that "heaven help us, for if this represents the state of discourse on fundamental IP policy we are hardly likely to see any intelligent engagement on the subject soon." because it gives me a chance to say I'm not happy with it either, but we are a very open party, and we are aware that what is most needed is "intelligent engagement on the subject". I want you to talk to us, and help us have that intelligent engagement.

As some of you might be aware, yesterday there was a march on parliament protesting about the digital economy bill
. It might surprise you to know that as Pirate Party leader, I wasn't there. At the time of the demo, I was at the Counter 2010 conference on counterfeiting and Piracy Research in Manchester, listening to Annette Kur from the Max Planck Institute lecture on best practice in challenging counterfeiting.

If our manifesto worries you, I quite understand, but I would say that perhaps this should worry you more: I spoke to the organisers of Counter 2010 and asked them why the Pirate Party movement had 5 delegates (including one MEP elect) at the conference, but the other parties were not invited. I was told that all the other parties were invited, but had not replied.

As an anonymous commenter suggested, I do believe that "we are witnessing the start of a political platform, as the ecological movement was years ago", if fact I would go a step further and point out that this platform already has representation at the European Parliament, and was able to generate 10,000 letters to MPs expressing concern over the prospect of the Digital Economy Bill going into 'wash up'.

Time to end on a soundbite (I am a politician after all)... I consider my job as leader of the fledgling PPUK to be to build a party that people like the readers of this blog could feel comfortable joining. I know some of you will be laughing when you read that, but I hope a few of you will consider helping us get a little bit closer to that goal, for everyone's benefit.
The IPKat, who strongly believes that this blog should be an open forum for intelligent informed discussion about IP, regardless of the points of view expressed, very much welcomes Andrew Robinson's comments and looks forward to seeing more discussions about the substance of what the PPUK stand for.  Who knows, they might even get some of the IPKat's regular audience to take them seriously.
The Pirate Party Responds The Pirate Party Responds Reviewed by David Pearce on Thursday, March 25, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. There are many reasons to object to the Digital Economy Bill's going into 'wash up' and entirely no reason to believe that the '10,000 letters to MPs' sent through the 38 Degrees site were all or even most of them written by supporters of the Pirate Party. Andrew Robinson may claim to head 'a new type of political party', but he is already spinning.

  2. If a working model is required, that would indeed make submarine patents very difficult to obtain :-)

    A bit more seriously, as an examiner I rarely, if ever, see inventions that I would class as "truly outstanding". However, the vital importance of incremental developments to innovation in general should not be underestimated (it accounts after all for a massive proportion of technological progress), and needs to be rewarded accordingly.

    Andrew, please don't take the very small number of some well-publicised patents (whether from here or across the pond) to conclude that the level of inventive step in Europe needs to be raised.

  3. Why are they against Biotech Patents? Pharmaceuticals - in my opinion misguided but understandable, but Biotech in general?

  4. I'm pleased to see that Andrew Robinson has taken my comment in good grace - I certainly meant no malice with it, but was rather trying to express my exasperation that the manifesto from a party that was at least willing to question the current state of IP came across as so simplistic and wrong-headed.

    I think that debate is important, and that it has to involve the full range of viewpoints lest it remain a shouting match between hardliners who erect straw-man versions of their opponent's positions. (And in between the PP Manifesto and the presentation by the BPI I saw last week, I've recently seen both ends of that.) I'd certainly be very interested in a debate or panel discussion with PP from the position of someone who believes that the concept of IP is a good thing so long as it is deployed sensibly and in moderation.

  5. "Yes, we do realise that biotech patents would have a problem with our approach, but that's intentional, we are against biotech patents."

    "We need to tackle the problem of preventable deaths in the third world caused by high price of patented drugs."

    Quite a lot of room for debate with these points so I'll throw back some questions instead.

    How many medicines on the WHO essential medicines list are patented?
    How many antiretrovirals for HIV medicines are patented in sub Saharan-Africa?
    What is the average per capita spending on health in these 'third world' countries?

  6. The idea of providing models for patented subject matter as a means to curb excess in this area is unfair and unworkable. How do you provide a model of a pharmaceutical product or a new use of a known product or a new process for producing a known product?

    The PPUK may well oppose the issuance of patents for pharmaceuticals - but how then is the expensive research and development of a pharmaceutical product to be paid back to the company which invested in it (pharmaceutical R&D costs of tens of millions of pounds/dollars)? If a generic firm, who did not invest in the new product, can copy it without having to recoup this cost, it can undercut the company that developed the product in the first place.

    One answer I have read from the anti-IP lobby was to have a high degree of government funded research into pharmaceuticals. There are three problems with this proposal - it means that government funded research, paid for by our taxes, will be doomed to lose money since others will be able to copy it (if no patent regime exists), state funded research would be the first area to be axed in government cuts at times of economic difficulty and lastly commercial companies will leave this area of research in droves. These factors would lead to a reduction in the level of R&D in this vital area.

    Patents are a necessary part of the economic model for the R&D of pharmaceutical products - if we want new ones that is. The 20 year monopoly is a trade-off for enriching the medical field in the long run.

    A more workable solution is compulsory licensing in cases where a particular product or patent is of particular importance in one state or region (such an anti-malaria medication or anti-retro-virals). This has the advantage of being fine tuned to the needs of each individual state, whilst maintaining the overall patent regime as a stimulant to R&D of new drugs, as opposed to the blunt instrument of abolition.

  7. Only time for a quick reply for now, but I'll checking back here regularly and following up on things in more depth. It's a very busy time for the Party, and I'm also holding down a day job while doing PP stuff in my spare time.

    Spinning? Possibly guilty as charged, but to be fair I was using the 10,000 letters as evidence of public demand for IP law change, rather than support for us specifically. Actual figures are 700 paid-up party members, and 8,610 facebook members (cue ridicule).

    Re: Anonymous, great to actually be taking to an examiner. I'm particularly interested in your views, as PPs worldwide often working on guesswork. The perceived problem I'm hearing from my members is that the need to licence a huge raft of incremental patents is a barrier to entry (at the risk of quoting a publicised case from over the pond, the iPhone patent war springs to mind). I, and PP members see Toyota claiming 2,500 patents on the Prius as stifling competition too much (who wants a car with 2,500 work-rounds, or to pay for the lawyers needed to clear them?), hence our desire to 'raise the bar'.

    Biotech... I'd say we are in favour of biotech, but against biotech patents. This is based primarily on what the media are reporting re Monsanto business practices. I'm aware we need to be better informed, that's why I'm posting here when I could be door-knocking in my constituency.

    Simon Bradshaw, that's exactly what I want to do too, let's make it happen. Shortly after the election would be good for me, since we've fixed our policies until then. We'll be dissecting our manifesto after, and probably inducting a lot of new members too, so an in-depth debate the public can watch on youtube would be amazingly useful. For the record, I do believe the concept of IP is a good thing so long as it is deployed in sensibly and in moderation (although my idea of moderation might be different to yours!). Incidentally, at Counter 2010, I sat down with the BPI and talked tentatively but productively about finding common ground, so it can be done!

    I'll be back to talk about Pharma patents as soon as I can, for now, I have to go to work.

  8. Who knows, they might even get some of the IPKat's regular audience to take them seriously.

    At least one person already: me...:-)

    An argument that I like for supporting the PP position: "Democracy loses a lot if we criminalise what people can do so easily and naturally. In particular because we know that many will never stop doing that."

    Thanks to Andrew Robinson and to the IPKat team for the interesting discussion.

  9. "The perceived problem I'm hearing from my members is that the need to licence a huge raft of incremental patents is a barrier to entry"

    Is there any diktat, or even equitable principle, pursuant to which companies active in any market must welcome new competitor with open arms and/or a bunch of flowers? Cynicism aside, barriers to entry in any market are plentiful, IP is but one very small aspect of these.

    As more eloquently explained earlier, companies active in technological markets expend R&D resources to maintain their position, and competitivity in such markets. Patents are used (amongst may other mechanisms, and besides many other 'business uses') to ensure that R&D outlay is recouped, rather than spent for the benefit of any competitor (note that the public benefits regardless, by the public disclosure of the invention before grant).

    In that context, a new market entrant will hopefully have its own technological advantage (expectedly patented?), and optionally cross-license same to established competitors in order to reduce its in-licensing exposure. Alternatively, the new market entrant is just piggy-backing on the R&D of established competitors, and has to pay the admission price. Seems fair to me?

    "(at the risk of quoting a publicised case from over the pond, the iPhone patent war springs to mind)"

    Citing this particular 'patent war' by way of example shows two things: your media-savviness (considering the newsworthiness of this spat), as expected from a politician/political party, and your apparent bias (since this spat is pretty much a pot-kettle-black affair, considering Apple's very own willigness to enforce it's IP where iPods, user interfaces and other such features 'invented by Apple' are concerned), as likewise expected from a politician/political party.

    "(...)see Toyota claiming 2,500 patents on the Prius as stifling competition too much (who wants a car with 2,500 work-rounds, or to pay for the lawyers needed to clear them?)"

    To add context to my earlier point, and in direct relation to the above quote, I seem to recall a marketing campaign by Audi in the nost-so-distant past, based on a claim of some 8,000 patents for incremental improvements to their ranges, outpacing NASA (or marketing hyperbole to that effect). Before Toyota started this sort of chest-beating, whereby, apparently, 8.000 patents (not counting those tens or hundreds of thousands of other nmanufacturers) still did not stop Toyota finding 2,500 further improvements... Can you see a pattern emerging?

    If you do, I will simply refer you back to the excellently concise and to-the-point post by Anynomous Examiner of March 26 at 08:20.

  10. If they want to be taken seriously, why are they calling themselves the "Pirate" party. Does the suggestion of criminality in their name not cloud their motives and potentially put voters off?

  11. If you wanted to build a smartphone or a hybrid car from scratch, then you'd face a whole raft of 'barriers to the market', of which patents are probably not the biggest by a long shot.

    But that is just the guesswork of a lowly examiner who has a fairly one-sided view of things - talk to attorneys about 'freedom to operate'.

    As for increasing the level of inventive step, remember that more stringent patent requirements = fewer applications = less knowledge published and available to researchers.

    Anonymous of 8:20am

  12. To the Anonymous of 8:20am:

    "...remember that more stringent patent requirements = fewer applications = less knowledge published and available to researchers."

    --- well, that is just the point: the 'superfluous' applications contribute so little to the state of the art that they are essentially expendable. There is so little knowledge. A larger inventive step = more knowledge per application.

    --- it is my sad impression that we are converging towards a system that is only able to discern if there is a difference and not how different it is. Hence it is easy to obtain a patent that is merely extending the protection for development that should have fallen into the public domain much earlier.

    --- I do not blame corporations for using the whole pallette of rules available, from tax rules to patent rules, etc. It is the responsibility of society itself to gain an understanding of the mechanisms in use and their consequences, and society must nominate politicians to act. Unfortunately, some reforms are just not possible any longer, due to TRIPS and to the EC. Globalisaton serves right holders better than it does the common man. Now, how is that for a provocation?

    Kind regards,

    George Brock-Nannestad

  13. George: Are you talking about the iPhone-wielding, Prius-driving common man? :p

  14. What do the press say Monsanto have been up to? I hold no special brief for Monsanto, but it would be interesting to try to understand what they've done that can only be remedied by abolishing biotech patents.

  15. Andrew, the 10,000 letters are not 'evidence of public demand for IP law change'. They are evidence of opposition to seeing highly contentious legislation rushed through Parliament without proper democratic scrutiny. I haven't used the 38 Degrees site myself, but I have looked at the sample message provided. It doesn't mention IP law change. It is perfectly possible to support the copyright regime in its existing form (more or less) and still oppose the 'three strikes' and related provisions as unfair and likely to lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. Moreover, the Bill is opposed by many photographers, authors and other creators, concerned about the threat to their rights as a result of the changes to copyright law in clause 43. Some people, I know, have used the 38 Degrees site to communicate these concerns to MPs.

  16. It's natural I suppose that here on this site you would focus particularly on the reforms of copyright and patent monopoly law that we in the Pirate Party propose.

    One thing to point out, however, is that is only part of our platform, as we are fundamentally a civil liberties movement, about freedom of speech and expression, and the protection individual privacy from (in particular) government and big business. We have substantial sections of our manifesto dedicated to this.

    These areas do feed into the control of information by copyright, and the control of innovation through patents; for example, I saw some earlier commenters who could not believe that we would advocate exempting non-commercial use from copyright, and were really shocked by that idea.

    Yet the reality is that we live in a world where digital information can be shared, and nearly everyone in our society has the means to copy and share, at no cost to themselves. One impact of that is that enforcing copyright on non-commercial use and sharing along 20th-century lines means monitoring everyone's use of networks and of their technology, online and offline, there just is no other way to do it.

    So that means sacrificing free speech as well, at the altar of copyright and "intellectual property", and we would say that is a price too great to pay.

    That's the pragmatic argument for why that particular policy is needed; there are also principled arguments, however this comment is getting long enough now so I will leave that for another time/another post.


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