Microsoft OK on Patent Vote

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.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick 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."