It is now up to the Commission what will happen next. The Commission may comply with the EPs request and either resubmit its February 2001 proposal or submit a revised proposal. It may decide, as McCarthy suggested, to carry out further studies on the legal and economic impact of the proposed patent legislation. It could ignore the EPs vote and push the current text through, although this is unlikely. Finally, it could withdraw the proposal entirely and pursue its reforms through other means, such as renegotiating the European Patent Convention. The Commission has threatened to withdraw in the past, when parliamentarians voted on tighter restrictions for patents. However, such a move would mean giving up a chance to give the Commission a more active role in European patent policy, and renegotiating the Convention would be a difficult task that could take 10 years.Another option may turn out to be more attractive to all sides. Rather than resubmitting a proposal, the Commission could take a shortcut and ask the EU Council to have another look at the proposaltaking into account the EPs concerns as expressed in its first reading of 2003and arrive at a new Common Position. The EU Council is the third branch of EU government, along with the Commission and the Parliament, and consists of representatives from the various member-state governments. Asked at the JURI meeting what the Commission would do, Commissioner Charlie McCreevy reportedly said, "All options are open." Those in favor of more restrictions on software patents say that in recent months lawmakers have become far more aware of the dangers of software patents and would be unlikely to agree to a Common Position such as the one of May 2004. "It takes time for people to realize why software patents are much more of a threat than a stimulus. I think we found that with MEPs in the Parliaments first reading, and we have seen that with several ministers in the Council," the FFIIs Heald said. "But once legislators eyes are opened to the dangers, they stay open." An EICTA spokesman, on the other hand, said the organization still stands behind the May 2004 text. "We have always said that we think that text works, it blocks software patents, and we dont see what all the fuss is about," he said. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols says its time to get rid of software patents once and for all. Click here to read his column. Last May, it appeared that the European Parliaments concerns around software patents had been cast aside by the EU Council when it arrived at a Common Position on the proposal that cast aside most of the EPs revisions. The Common Position was due to be rubber-stamped last year, and was expected to go on to the EP for a second reading, where MEPs would have had a maximum of four months to make further changes. A series of chance delays and procedural issues, backed by a rising awareness among legislators of the dangers of software patents, gave JURI its unexpected opportunity to turn the process around. Key turning points were a change in voting rules that gave new entrants to the EUsuch as Polandmore power in the legislative process, and a series of delays in the official adoption of the Common Position. If those delays hadnt occurred, JURI wouldnt have been able to vote for a restart; the current text would have been adopted and ratified before Wednesdays meeting. Those arguing for more restrictions on IT patents say they believe more large enterprises will soon see the light. "I think you will see some billion-dollar corporations speaking out against software patents. The cost of software patent litigation has grown more than the revenues from software sales have," said Florian Mueller of the NoSoftwarePatents.org campaign. The Commission is expected to clarify its intentions sometime this month. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.
If the Commission withdraws its proposal, it is barred from submitting a new proposal on the same matter for two years.