Starting Over

By Matthew Broersma  |  Posted 2005-01-21 Print this article Print

Starting over The furor around the proposed directive has excited the kind of intense debate rarely associated with the EU legislative process, which more often concerns itself with regulating supermarket labels and fruit trade specifications. When the directive was passing through the European Parliament in 2003, open-source activists, among others, successfully lobbied MEPs (members of the European Parliament) to add a number of restrictions to the draft, designed to make sure software patents wouldnt slip in.
Most of these restrictions were later removed by the EU Council, resulting in the current text, adopted as the councils Common Position in May of last year.
Ordinarily, a Common Position that has been agreed upon is adopted without further debate. But changes in voting rules within the EU Council gave new EU member states, such as Poland, an opportunity to challenge the Common Position before its adoption. Poland now seems likely to allow the adoption of the Common Position to go ahead, and to simply register its reservations about the text. However, in twice delaying adoption, Poland has given parliamentarians a chance to make a decisive difference. If adoption were to take place Monday, the text would be accepted by the EP during a plenary session on Jan. 25 and 26. The EP wouldnt have an opportunity to scrap the proposal and start over, because the EP committee involved, the legal affairs committee (JURI), doesnt have its first meeting of the year until early February. If the adoption takes place Jan. 31, as sources now say it will, it will not go to an EP plenary session until the end of February. That means JURI would have an opportunity to decide what to do next—it could allow the text to go through to a second reading in Parliament, or it could begin the entire process again. It is more difficult to change a text in a second reading than a first reading, because more substantial majorities are needed. Earlier this month, a group of 61 MEPs said they would support efforts to begin the process anew. Florian Mueller, head of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign, said if the process does begin again, it would most likely benefit those seeking more protection against software patents. "Given how the positions of various countries have changed, a Common Position of the council would never again provide for such broad patentability as the text of May 18, 2004," he said. Mueller noted that the city of Munich has been advised to require legal indemnity from its software suppliers in order to mitigate the patent threat, a requirement that would lock out smaller suppliers. In the United States, software patents may pose a significant risk to open-source projects such as Linux. An insurance firm last year calculated that Linux is affected by nearly 300 approved patents. Individual companies are making efforts to protect open-source developers. Earlier this month, IBM donated 500 patents to open-source projects in a show of support for U.S. developer efforts. Suns process of open-sourcing Solaris may convey a large number of the companys patents to the open-source community, a source said this week. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.


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