21st Nov 2018

MEPs may scrap software patents law

Key parliamentary groups may unite forces and drop the controversial directive on software patents currently being considered. MEPs confess that pressure from various lobby groups is becoming "unbearable".

The European parliament is set to vote on the directive, on harmonising the patentability of computer-driven inventions on Wednesday (6 July).

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The legislation has sparked fervent debates on whether software could and should be patented or whether it should be kept under the protection of currently existing copyright systems.

Long way from committee to plenary

The center-right and liberal groups are set to decide on their common positions this evening, as there are disagreements among their members on whether to support some of the amendments to the directive, or scrap the version agreed by the EU ministers altogether.

In a previous vote in the legal committee, both groups backed the Council and Commission’s position, which is considered to favour the supporters of software patents.

The move was a step back from their previous strong refusal of the directive, and it was explained by some observers as a result of big industries’ lobbying power.

But both the center-right and liberals seem set to back dropping the draft off the table in the final vote.

"It looks like the easiest thing will be to unite against the directive as such, because the amendments proposed by the rapporteur would not be acceptable to the member states anyway", said the Czech center-right MEP Zuzana Roithova.

The changes put forward by the Parliament need to be approved by a minimum of 367 MEPs to be implemented.

The French Socialist rapporteur, Michel Rocard, suggested some restrictions to the patenting practice, pointing out it should be made clear that only inventions, not the programmes themselves, would need to be patented.

Some opponents of his opinion argued that such rules would fail to prevent computer companies from the USA or Japan stealing ideas from European businesses.

Litigation rather than innovation

As the MEPs debated the software patents draft, its opponents from several countries and organisations gathered in front of the Parliament’s building, to make their protests heard.

They indicated the main argument of the big companies – that the new directive would lead to increases in R&D - is flawed.

"We think that the directive would not boost the innovation but the litigation", said the spokesman of the 'No to software patents' campaign.

He explained the patents would benefit those who could afford legal procedures, while the small companies would prefer paying fees for using the software patented by someone else, rather than going to court.

"Software is very hard to patent as it is composed of numerous ideas and you can not protect all of them. So this would cause a huge legal uncertainty for SMEs and individual programmers, as they could be attacked any time for presumably stealing someone’s idea. And these attacks would be very expensive", he pointed out.

SMEs are also worried about possible cross-licencing deals on software patents between multi-national companies that would benefit from them and strike at small businesses even further.

"We want to keep the system of copyright protection, which is based on the idea that you write the software and you own it, while in the patenting system you don’t write it and still you can own it and sell it further", said the campaigner.

Pressure from the strongest

On the other hand, the high tech companies, have been pressing MEPs to support the member states' stance, pointing out it will "ensure Europe's position as a leading innovator".

"No new law is being introduced. It's simplifying through harmonising and codifying 25 separate practices to create one common platform. That was the original idea and you know, it is still the best idea", Pat Cox, the former boss of the European Parliament has stated on behalf of EICTA, the industry lobby of high tech companies.

Commissioner Joaquin Almunia also argued in favour of the directive during the parliament's debate.

"The proposed directive neither aims to abolish the current practice of the European Patent Office nor to extend it to cover the patenting of pure computer programs, as many of the opponents of the proposals have claimed", he said.

He also stressed out that the Commission would not come up with yet another re-written version of the legislation.

"We can accept amendments that introduce useful technical or contextual clarifications, subject to minor fine-tuning or interpretative statements where necessary, but the overall balance of the proposal must be maintained", said Mr Almunia.


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