The week in technology: No progress on patents

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Patent proposals dropped

After three years of wrangling, the EU failed to reach agreement on a common approach to software patents when a draft bill was voted down by a massive majority.

By the time they were voted on the proposed laws had few supporters. Big technology companies said the numerous amendments to the bill meant it would be confusing and could endanger jobs. Smaller companies feared that it would mean a more liberal patent regime that would be unfavourable businesses which cannot afford expensive court action to defend their intellectual property rights or challenge patents which they believe breach their own copyright. This, they argued, would in fact stifle innovation.

The European Commission however warned that 25 different and competing patent regimes across the EU could also hurt the competitiveness of companies in the region.

The question of what happens next has brought just as much disagreement - some MEPs want a new proposal, while others think the entire matter should be ended.

Asian expansion

Accenture, the management outsourcing and consultancy company, said it plans to hire up to 30,000 new staff in China, India and the Philippines over the next three years. The group is continuing to increase the amount of development work done offshore.

Intel gets starstruck

Intel is teaming up with Hollywood star Morgan Freeman to distribute movies to consumers directly over the web in a bid to battle piracy.

The world’s leading chipmaker said it would invest an undisclosed sum in the actor’s start-up ClickStar, expected to launch in early 2006.

ClickStar aims to release movies over the internet before they are officially available on DVD and potentially as they are still doing the rounds at cinemas.

Currently, the major studios have a tried and tested release sequence for movies - from box office to DVD and television rights.

But since the digitalisation of movies, piracy has soared putting pressure on Hollywood to adapt their distribution methods to the digital age.

No studios have signed up for ClickStar yet but the combination of Intel’s clout and Mr Freeman’s fame is sure to turn a few heads in Tinseltown.

“Our aim is to deliver first-run premium entertainment to film fans around the world and to make film easier to buy than to pirate,” said Mr Morgan at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho.

Mr Morgan will have to overcome movie executive concerns that tinkering with the release system will reduce revenues and upset cinemas and DVD retailers. Initially, ClickStar will focus on independent films.

Intel’s involvement is part of its strategy to boost microprocessor sales by promoting the PC as a home entertainment hub.

Terror hits mobile phones

Mobile phone operators said their networks experienced severe congestion following the bomb attacks in London, but claimed they held up well under the strain of stranded commuters attempting to call loved ones and work colleagues.

“Our network is performing normally. People may be experiencing difficulties on the first attempt but we advise them to try again and expect them to get through on the second or third attempt,” said Stewart Jackson, a spokesman from Orange, as the news of the terror attacks broke.

Both Vodafone and O2 described their networks as undamaged but very congested, adding that this was the only reason callers were having trouble making contact.

They concurred with Orange that in emergencies people should keep trying but requested that customers in Central London “avoid making unnecessary or lengthy phone calls”.

Operators denied rumours that they had been ordered to shut down networks by the governments because of fears mobile phones might be being used to detonate explosions.

“The first thing we do in these situations is to contact the Home Office and and offer our help, but the government hasn’t requested it,” said Mr Jackson.

However, Vodafone said it worked closely with the emergency services to provide them with priority coverage.

Fixed-line networks appeared to be unaffected by the blasts.

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