Microsoft OK on Patent Vote

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-07-18 Print this article Print

After European Parliament rejects uniform regime, Ballmer says he prefers having no common rules to adopting a bad set of rules.

Despite the fact that the recent decision by the European Parliament to reject the idea of a uniform patent regime prevents Microsoft Corp. from using its myriad software patents as weapons in Europe, company officials are putting on a brave face.

In an interview at the companys Worldwide Partner Conference here earlier this month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, "There were only two paths forward that made sense for not only us but for all European inventors: that there be a good, uniform patent regime put in place across Europe or that there be no resolution at all."

A bad regime would have been "a bad outcome, so I think the position the Parliament took is OK," Ballmer said. "They decided not to try to put a common patent regime in place across Europe, and we continue to live with the patent regimes in the various European countries, which are OK."

The Parliament voted 648-14, with 18 abstentions, to reject the directive, which would have become European Union law if approved. That brings the matter to an end, as the European Commission said it will not put forward another proposal. Had the directive passed, it would have created a patent system similar to that in the United States and Japan, where a number of large companies have amassed huge patent portfolios that critics say allow them to hinder innovation and competition.

Click here to read a column on the European patent decision by eWEEK Labs Jim Rapoza. The rejection of the directive means that patents on pure software and business processes are not enforceable in the EU, rendering it impossible for large companies to bring their patent arsenals into play in the region.

Asked if the single patent regime would have been his preferred outcome, Ballmer said that if it were one that encouraged innovation, such as the regimes that Siemens AG, Nokia Corp., Microsoft and SAP AG currently work under, "then sure. It is always easier to deal with one, essentially regulatory, framework as opposed to more than one, but were OK with this outcome, too."

The Business Software Alliance took a similar position.

"While we would have preferred to see the laws around patents harmonized throughout Europe, at least the intellectual property protection that innovators had yesterday will remain the same tomorrow—and that is critical for European competitiveness," said Francisco Mingorance, BSA Europes director of public policy, in London.

However, open-source advocates such as Linux creator Linus Torvalds, who appealed to the European Parliament not to adopt the proposal, say they feel vindicated. Torvalds, who is based in Portland, Ore., had argued that "in the interest of Europe, such a deceptive, dangerous and democratically illegitimate proposal must not become the Common Position of the member states."

Torvalds went on to say, "For the sake of innovation and a competitive software market, we sincerely hope that the European Union will seize this opportunity to exclude software from patentability and gain a major competitive advantage in the Information Age."

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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