17th Jul 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).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

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.


MEPs set for scrap on EU patents

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.

News in Brief

  1. VW owners to get diesel software update free until 2020
  2. Airbnb breaches EU consumer rules, Commission says
  3. EU sees no China free-trade talks
  4. Italy accepts migrant boat after help promises
  5. EU opens case on Siemens' Alstom buyout
  6. Trump: May found my Brexit advice 'too brutal'
  7. Italy will reject EU-Canada trade deal, says deputy PM
  8. Commission: Juncker suffered from sciatica attack at Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. EU and China agree on words, not yet on action
  2. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  3. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  4. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  5. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  6. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism
  7. Stage set for Trump-Putin finale
  8. Trump scuppers trade deal with UK under May's Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us