Thursday

14th Nov 2019

Hard talk on software

Billions of euro and thousands of jobs and businesses are at stake at the European Parliament today, as members vote on the controversial software patent Directive. The debate has been ferocious and the result is still difficult to predict.

The Directive aims to simplify and harmonise patent law for "computer-implemented" inventions. In practice, this covers a wide range of applications from washing machines to mobile phones.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Political parties and business groups are split on the issue.

Broadly speaking, the Christian Democrats and Socialists, along with big business associations are in favour. Against the Directive are the Greens, Liberals and small businesses. Due to the splits, the vote today is expected to be extremely close.

Small businesses could collapse, warn campaigners

Those arguing against the Directive claim that all types of software will become subject to patents, meaning that small businesses risk becoming swamped with licensing fees.

More importantly, software patenting can stiffle innovation for two reasons.

Firstly, small businesses and programmers lack the resources to check whether every line of code in their software programs might infringe someone else's patent, so there is less incentive to innovate.

Secondly, every programme is based on previous innovations. If all these innovations become subject to licensing fees, it will be expensive to follow up on someone else's work.

Patenting protects small business, argue others

But the pro-patenting campaign argues that it is precisely these small businesses that would be protected by patenting, because they will be able to charge licensing fees for their innovations, thus enabling them to compete against big companies like Microsoft and IBM.

The patents would only apply to computer-implemented inventions, rather than to "pure software", so innovation in programming would not be inhibited, say the pro-patent lobby.

Emotions running high

The debate has become impassioned, with leading pro-patent campaigner Arlene McCarthy (a UK socialist MEP) accusing the other side of running a disinformation campaign.

She says it is vital for the European software industry that this Directive is implemented. In an explanatory note, she writes, "at a time when many of our traditional industries are migrating to Asia, and when we Europeans are having to rely on inventiveness to earn our living, it is important for us to have the revenue secured by patents and the licensing out of ideas".

Opponents of the Directive say that it will cripple small businesses and only the large multinationals will benefit. About 100 programmers and inventors protested yesterday in Strasbourg against the Directive.

The debate is so controversial that it has already been postponed twice.

EU and China agree to defend 'gastronomic jewels'

Manchego cheese, Panjin rice and Polish vodka will all be protected under a new EU-China agreeement. But the two trading giants continue to struggle over other trade-related deals.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  2. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  3. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  4. UK will not name new commissioner before election
  5. Trump expected to delay EU car tariff decision
  6. Tusk: Post-Brexit UK will be a 'second-rate player'
  7. Police end Catalan separatist blockade of France-Spain road
  8. Poland arrests extremists for 'planning attacks on Muslims'

Opinion

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  2. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  3. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  4. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act
  5. Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile
  6. Mustard gas and cod: Last chance to stop Nord Stream 2?
  7. Cultural Battlefield
  8. Nationalists as much a threat to EU arts as resources

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us