Wednesday

6th Jul 2022

Software bill better off in bin, Pat Cox says

Europe is better off without the software patent directive, industry lobbyist and former European Parliament president Pat Cox said in an interview with the EUobserver, after MEPs binned the law earlier this week.

The Irish politician led MEPs through enlargement under his 2002 to mid-2004 presidency and has acted as advisor to the European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association (EICTA) on the software bill since late last year.

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"The rejection by parliament is an act of prudence - no directive is better than a bad directive", Mr Cox continued, adding that the law might have turned Europe into a net consumer of software instead of a net producer in time.

"This is the outcome I would have fought for, even if I had been an elected representative", he remarked.

Under the status quo, IT firms can patent software innovations under the individual rules of the 25 member states as well as the European Patents Office in Munich, which has no formal ties with the EU.

The European Commission originally proposed a directive harmonising rules on computer code copyright across the bloc, but socialist EP rapporteur Michel Rocard pushed to limit the bill to physical inventions only, with the final draft falling between two stools.

Mr Cox explained that the final draft contained enough "legal uncertainty" to damage intellectual property rights of both small and large software companies and could have led to the exodus of firms such as SAP which employs 6,500 people and invests €850 million a year on software research in the EU alone.

He added that public debate lapsed into stereotypes of small IT firms struggling against big business' attempts to lock them out of the sector, but that smaller players also rely on code copyright to make their software tradeable.

"Software is a new frontier in a very old debate", he noted. "Abraham Lincoln said that we should 'add the fuel of interest to the fire of genius' when writing to defend the US patent system".

Cox reinvents himself

EICTA is the first major client of Mr Cox's Washington DC-registered lobbying firm, European Integration Solutions (EIS).

The ex-EP president said he is "happily reinventing himself" from being a political "generalist" to an IT consultant but maintains a public profile via pro-bono publico work with NGOs such as Friends of Europe and The European Movement.

He did not remark on any potential conflict between his political career and his industry work, stressing that the kind of lobbying he does is not "going around knocking on MEPs' doors" but rather meeting with industry stakeholders to "help shape their telling of the story".

He added that EIS is just "a way of making a living" and that while he has no ambitions to return to European politics, he remains "engaged" with the major political issues of the day.

Enlargement a moral duty

"Enlargement represented a high watermark of European politics and it is fascinating to see in the past 12 months how quickly the tide has ebbed away", he remarked.

On the constitution, he commented that the default position of the EU is not zero but the sum total of the existing treaties, with European institutions seemingly drifting into denial and paralysis rather than showing strong leadership and asking 'what next?'

Mr Cox also spoke forcefully on enlargement, saying he rejects the "false argument" that eastern European countries contributed to French economic problems - which pre-date their entry into the EU by a decade.

He stated that Brussels has a "duty of care" toward the western Balkans in terms of promoting stability through the accession process.

"It would be not only shameful but immoral for the EU to turn its back on the western Balkans", Mr Cox stated.

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Just over a year after a controversial proposal to harmonise EU patent laws was shelved indefinitely, the European Commission will present a new patents plan on Thursday. But the European Parliament has already taken out its arms and is ready to fight the plan.

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