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Octrooirecht

Software patent vote this week. EU governments are this week expected to push through a groundbreaking vote on the proposed software patent directive in one of the last two European Council meetings before the end of the year. Contrary to recent press reports claiming that an adoption of the draft directive will not be possible before 2005, the Dutch EU Presidency and the 25 member states making up the European Council are seemingly eager to commit to this final step before the end of the year.

Octrooirecht. Software patent vote this week. EU governments are this week expected to push through a groundbreaking vote on the proposed software patent directive in one of the last two European Council meetings before the end of the year.

Contrary to recent press reports claiming that an adoption of the draft directive will not be possible before 2005, the Dutch EU Presidency and the 25 member states making up the European Council are seemingly eager to commit to this final step before the end of the year.

So eager, in fact, that they have decided to formally adopt the decision, reached by the Competitiveness Council on May 18, as an A point (without a debate) in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting on December 21.

The outcome will be known as the Council’s common position.

Confirming Tuesday’s adoption, a Council spokesperson told MIP Week: “The Spanish delegation has announced that it will vote against and the Belgian, Austrian and Italian that they will abstain. Several delegations such as the Netherlands, Poland and Latvia announced that they will make a declaration to the Council minutes explaining their positions.”

Under the EU’s co-decision procedure, the Council’s common position will be transferred to the European Parliament, which could give it its vote as early as mid-January, or mid-February next year – that is, if all goes according to plan.

The EU directive on the patenting of computer-implemented inventions has been at the centre of much controversy since the European Commission first proposed it in 2002. Its aim is to harmonize the divergent laws on software patenting across the EU by bringing them more in line with the current practice at the European Patent Office.

But groups such as the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure are concerned that the directive would legalize software patenting, or at the very least increase software patenting due to confused wording in the directive over what kind of software is patentable.

In late 2003 the Parliament adopted a new draft with more than 70 amendments to the Commission’s original proposal. The IT industry and the European Commission said the amendments diluted the original plans and turned the draft text into a confusing maze of broad and contradictory provisions.

On May 18, the Competitiveness Council, pushed by the then Irish EU presidency, adopted a so-called compromise draft, keeping only 21 of the Parliament’s amendments and moving closer to the Commission’s original version. Supporters of the directive, such as Dell, Ericsson, Intel, Siemens and Sony, would like to see it adopted sooner rather than later.

“This directive is extremely important for the future of innovation in Europe as it concerns two-thirds of all inventions in the European high-tech industry,” said Mark MacGann, director-general of the European IT industry association (EICTA).

Hoping to calm fears that the directive will bring the EU closer to the more liberal US and Japan approaches to software patenting, UK government officials last Tuesday said that the directive will not change the EU’s legal position, but instead will simply clarify what can and cannot be patented.

Lord Sainsbury, the UK’s minister for science and innovation, said that it will not adversely impact the software and open-source market: “Changes in patent practice in the US in the last five years have caused concern in some areas of the computer industry, and the directive will ensure that Europe continues on its own path, which is a balanced approach that both creates a climate for innovation and supports the open source software.”

To be adopted as law, the Council’s common position on the directive will have to go back to the Parliament for a second reading (expected to happen in January or February at the earliest).

“The Parliament will either agree with it, or reject it completely, in which case the directive is dead,” said Tony Howard, deputy director at the UK Patent Office, at a press conference organized by the Department of Trade and Industry last Tuesday.

The remaining option would be that the Parliament again changes the draft, in which case it would have to send it back for a second reading to the Council. In such a case, the Parliament would, under old EU rules, have been restricted to re-introducing only those changes made to the draft during its first reading.

But with the election of a new Parliament, which opened in October, this rule does not apply, explained Howard, and the Parliament will be free to introduce new changes if it wishes.

“It’s an issue to follow that will keep us all very busy for the months to come. It will be even harder this time than during the first reading,” said one industry observer in Brussels.

Read here and here the draft statements to be considered Tuesday.

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Read here and here the draft statements to be considered Tuesday.

Stephanie Bodoni, London - 19 December 2004