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Unified European Patent System Could Goose Innovation

Unified European Patent System Could Goose Innovation

Today in international tech news: Europe adopts a unified patent system; Google pulls the plug on its Chinese shopping search; a leaked International Telecommunication Union documents hints that the body wants more control; and concerns abound -- from authorities and activists alike -- about the Chinese messaging system WeChat.

By David Vranicar
12/12/12 4:59 PM PT

In an attempt to harmonize the various patent systems used throughout the European Union's 27 nations, the European Parliament adopted a uniform patent system Tuesday.

The unified system, which is expected to come into effect in early 2014, could alleviate the "impediments to innovation" caused by the EU's various patent systems, according to The New York Times. Following the Parliament's 484-164 vote in favor of the new patent system, each EU nation will deliberate the measure in February.

The new system will supplement the current array of patent rules that vary by nation, said the Times. Because rulings in one nation don't necessary apply to another, it is believed to be 15 times more expensive in Europe than in the U.S. to protect inventions and innovations.

The European Commission estimates that under the new standardized setup, protecting patents would cost about US$8,400 -- compared to a current cost of $46,500. Prices would plunge because individual nations would no longer need to validate the unitary patents which are granted by the European Patent Office in Munich, Germany. Moreover, the patents would no longer need to be translated into each of the EU's 20-plus official languages -- just English, German and French.

Alas, even this streamlining measure has ruffled feathers: Irked that their languages have been relegated to the dustbin, Spain and Italy reportedly have sued to overturn the decision.

Google Pulls the Plug on Chinese Shopping Search

Less than three months after closing its Chinese music search, Google nixed its Chinese shopping service on Wednesday.

It "wasn't providing businesses with the level of impact" that it had hoped for, according to Bloomberg. Google was up against plenty of domestic competition, including China's top e-commerce company, Alibaba Group Holding and 360buy.

Google Maps has also taken a dive in China, further solidifying the company's cold streak in the Middle Kingdom.

ITU Draft Hints at Desire for Expanded Role

A leaked document from the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency overseeing an international conference in Dubai, suggests that it is using the summit to gain more control over governance of the Internet.

The leaked "draft language" would permit the organization to take a more "active" role in managing the Web, according to Cnet. The ITU would seek involvement in topics ranging from public policy to technical issues, the leak suggests.

The document was revealed on the same day the White House again expressed concern that the ITU summit could result in telecommunications treaties that would legitimize state censorship. The U.S. has repeatedly said it would reject attempts by the ITU to legislate the Web. In a unanimous resolution, the House of Representatives reaffirmed the U.S.' commitment to a free Internet.

Concerns About China's WeChat

Chinese authorities, human rights activists and Taiwan officials are among those who have, for differing reasons, voiced concern over WeChat, a messaging app developed in China and rapidly spreading elsewhere.

The angst over -- and ascension of -- WeChat, which is akin to the U.S.-based WhatsApp, is highlighted in recent articles in both The Guardian and Tech In Asia.

WeChat announced in September that its users doubled to 200 million in six months. The majority are in China, but the service is growing in the U.S. and Europe, as well.

Activists are concerned that the app's voice-messaging service enables authorities to monitor users, as The Guardian points out. Hu Jia, a jailed human rights activist, reportedly suspects that WeChat played a role in his arrest. Moreover, when the app launched in Taiwan in October, legislators voiced concerns that it could pose a threat to national security by exposing private communications.

However, there are two sides to the coin: Chinese authorities also see WeChat as a threat, according to Tech In Asia. Plus, a recent feature on state-run TV discussed the dangers of WeChat, including how its location-related features can tip off criminals.


David Vranicar is a freelance journalist and author of The Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis. You can check out his ECT News archive here, and you can email him at david[dot]vranicar[at]newsroom[dot]ectnews[dot]com.


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