EU Patent Crisis: Pressure Mounting to Scrap IT Changes

While supporters (including Microsoft) hold that the initiative is needed to clarify the European patent system, opponents argue that it will legalize patents and interfere with business.

The European Parliament has unanimously passed a fresh motion calling for the European Commission to take action over the European Unions controversial IT-patenting initiative, which critics say would legalize software patents.

The motion increases the pressure on the Commission, following two recent EP decisions along similar lines. The EP wants the Commission to scrap the current version of the proposed patents directive, which dates from May 2004, and start the legislative process over from scratch.

Meanwhile, the EU Council, the third branch of the European Unions government, is in a deadlock with the Commission over which body will make the next move, according to observers.

Whatever decision the Council or the Commission makes, it will be likely to have uncomfortable consequences, analysts say. The EP and a growing number of the European Unions national parliaments are against the May 2004 proposal, while many large companies, including Microsoft Corp., back the proposal.

A significant Danish political party on Thursday voiced its formal opposition to the proposal, following similar statements from Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

The outcome of the process will decide whether the European Unions software industry remains free of the patent warfare that has become common in the United States in recent years. Companies dealing with the U.S. and EU software markets must currently deal with two different patent regimes.

The European Unions current system benefits its open-source companies, which dont have to wade through the many software patent claims that exist in the United States.

The FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) said the Commission should withdraw the May 2004 proposal and start over. FFII president Hartmut Pilch said the increasing awareness of software patent issues is countering the influence of big business and national patent office officials.

"Under these circumstances, a Council majority for a good directive may become possible," Pilch told eWEEK.

The EPs motion, passed unanimously in a Thursday plenary session, urged the Commission to "review its proposal for the software patents directive in accordance with the decisions in Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament on 2 February 2005 and the Conference of Presidents 17 February 2005."

On Feb. 2 the Legal Affairs Committee, known as JURI, decided to ask the Commission to restart the legislative process, and this was ratified by the Conference of Presidents on Feb. 17. Thursdays motion isnt necessary for the EP to ask for a restart—it is purely designed to reinforce the EPs message, observers said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about JURIs decision to restart the legislative process surrounding the patent initiative.

The motion is important in another way as well, showing that if the May 2004 text is adopted by the EU Council and returned to the EP for a second reading, the political will exists for the EP to scrap the proposal itself.

"The Commission and the Council can figure out that it will do them no good to ignore the EPs request for a restart since the EP could then in a second reading simply reject the proposal with an absolute majority of its component members," Florian Mueller, head of the campaign, told eWEEK.

Next Page: Commission and Council in a deadlock.