EU Council Set to Approve Patent Proposal

After some last-minute diplomatic finagling, the Council of the EU has given the go-ahead to the controversial legislation, despite the fact that it's lost the support of most EU governments.

The EUs controversial proposal on patenting "computer-implemented inventions" has unexpectedly cleared a major hurdle, with the Council of the European Union set to give its approval early next week, officials have confirmed.

In a technical fluke, it will fall to a meeting of either the Environment or the Agriculture and Fisheries councils—the only meetings left this year—to adopt the proposal as the Common Position of the Council.

"At a Council meeting early next week, the text will be adopted as the Common Position," said Dr. Jeremy Philpott, a spokesperson for the U.K. Patent Office. "It will be adopted or it will fall off the agenda. There is no opportunity to debate it—the substantive debate happened back in May."

The move was applauded by the European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association, which counts dozens of multinational technology companies as members. "This was really the only good outcome possible," said spokesperson Leo Baumann. "It would really have been a disaster if the Council had decided not to adopt the Common Position now. Europes highly innovative technology industry ... deserves clarity."

Critics said the adoption of the proposal would be a blow to Europes software industry and to the democratic process. "The EU Council and Commission are now poised to adopt as their Common Position a piece of unreasoned mumbo jumbo, which, as everybody knows, does not enjoy support of a qualified majority even in the Council itself," said Hartmut Pilch, of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, in a statement.

The proposed Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions has a long history, but as it has grown closer to completion it has been the subject of increasingly charged debate. Advocates of the current text, including the governments of many EU member states and some large corporations, say the proposal is just a clarification of current patent rules across the EU. The text has been opposed by economists, small businesses, software developers and open-source advocates, who say that it legitimizes the patenting of pure software, which has crept into European practice over time.

Critics such as Linus Torvalds say software patents, as allowed by the current text, would lock out smaller competitors and launch a patents arms race, as is already the case in the United States.

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Last year, such arguments convinced MEPs (members of the European Parliament) to make substantial changes to the proposal, effectively limiting its scope and explicitly blocking patents on software. The changes were later thrown out by the EU Council, which approved the current draft in May of this year.

Next page: Last-minute drama.