16th Nov 2018

MEPs bin software patents bill

MEPs have sent a final blow to the controversial directive on software patents, by supporting an overall rejection of the bill by 648 votes, with only 14 MEPs voting against and 18 abstentions.

The decision made on Wednesday (6 July) follows the previous call for the directive's withdrawal by the parliamentarians in its first reading.

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It is the first time the Parliament has rejected a piece of legilsation by absolute majority in the second reading.

The law aimed to harmonise patenting practices in computer-driven inventions across the EU member states

The main point of dispute among its supporters and opponents was to which extent should software be protected by patents, rather than just copyright systems that are currently in practice.

Institutional quarelling

Speaking to journalists after the vote, the European Parliament president Josep Borrell suggested that he would talk to the Commission chief to make it clear that the plenary's voice should be taken into consideration more seriously by the EU executive and member states.

He argued the commission had completely ignored the Parliament's suggestions for amendments and kept its proposal without major changes.

Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told MEPs on Tuesday (5 July) that the commission was not intending to issue a new proposal should the parliament bin the proposal.

"It was totally inappropriate how some commissioners reacted to our proposals", said Mr Borrell, pointing out "they are paid extremely well to put forward solutions and be prepared to introduce new ones even after some of them are rejected".

The Socialist rapporteur on the directive, Michel Rocard, added the parliament was faced with "scorn" and "ignorance" from the commission and member states, who consequently deserved such a strong signal of disapproval from the EU assembly.

However, the center-right leader, Hans-Gert Poettering suggested after the vote that Brussels should prepare a new legislation, and commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner indicated the EU executive would consider such a move, if directly requested by the parliament.

Response by stakeholders

Reactions from the industries involved in the debate have varied.

Some of the large high-tech companies - originally supporting the draft - claim that remaining with the status quo is better than the adoption of Mr Rocard's amendments to the bill.

The small and medium sized firms also agree saying that the current state is better than the software patent law that has been dropped from the table.

"Rejecting the directive is a better outcome for small businesses than agreeing to a text that would allow the patenting of software, which the proposal as it stood would have done", stated Hans-Werner Müller, UEAPME Secretary General.

The consumer's lobby, the BEUC, has expressed regret that the three-year long legislation marathon had been held for nothing, suggesting it is a pity it had not used its powers to push forward an idea that sofwares should not be patented.

"Consumers have a lot to gain from innovation and competition in the software market. Software operates features of consumer goods like cars, stereos, and home appliances and this trend will intensify in the years to come", noted BEUC Director Jim Murray.


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