The European Commission has turned down the request that a controversial IT patenting proposal be thrown out, the latest twist in the European Unions software patents drama. The decision gives the go-ahead to send the proposal through to the next stage of the legislative process.
The proposed European Union-wide law on the “patentability of computer-implemented inventions” is heavily opposed by the European Parliament, which believes the measure would legalize software patents in Europe—bringing the EU closer to U.S. patent practice.
The implications for intellectual property issues worldwide are far-reaching, given the amount of legal entanglements between software (and operating system) competitors in the United States over patents—as in The SCO Groups lawsuit against IBM, Novell Inc. and others.
The current proposal, which dates from May 2004, is opposed by open-source organizations and SMBs (small and midsized businesses), but it is backed by many larger IT companies, including Microsoft Corp.
In a letter Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the president of the European Parliament that its request for a restart would not be accepted. In the letter, Barroso said the commission will not submit a new proposal on the IT patents issue, an EC spokesperson confirmed to eWEEK.com.
Barroso went on to say that the EC expects the EU Council—the third branch of EU government—to formally adopt the proposal “as soon as possible,” after which the proposal would pass to the EP for a second reading. All of the views expressed would be considered during the second reading, Barroso said.
Critics of the current proposal have sought to block it from going into a second reading, which operates to a strict timetable and where any changes must be supported by more substantial majorities than in a first reading.
The EU Council, comprising representatives of the EUs 25 national governments, approved the proposals current version last May, but even most EU Council members now formally oppose the draft, partly because of the arrival of new member states. The council still has not formally adopted the May 2004 draft, due partly to the opposition of Poland and other EU member states.
The national parliaments of Spain, the Netherlands and Germany have recently approved formal resolutions supporting the EPs call for a restart.
The EP itself has bolstered its stance with three decisions: On Feb. 2, the legal affairs committee decided to ask the EC for a restart, and on Feb. 17 the decision was ratified by the EPs Conference of Presidents, the chairs of the various groups. On Feb. 24, in a plenary session, the EP unanimously approved a motion urging the EC to take action.
In the face of such clearly expressed political will, many of the proposals critics expected the EC to comply with the parliaments request. The ECs decision “negates democracy,” said Florian Mueller, manager of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign.
The EU Council is now expected to adopt the resolution on March 7, in a session of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council. Because the text was discussed during the negotiation of the “Common Position” of May 2004, it can now be adopted without discussion by any of the councils specialized bodies.
“We call on the EU Council to demonstrate a more democratic attitude and to reopen negotiations of its Common Position,” Mueller said in a statement.
It is possible, though unlikely, that the council will choose to conduct further discussions of the proposal rather than immediately adopting it. If the current proposal proceeds to a second reading in the EP, it is possible that ministers will be able to summon the voting power to substantially modify the proposal or effectively throw it out, Mueller said.