EC divided over software patents

A damaging split in the European Commission may delay a decision on whether to follow lax US patent rules, widely blamed for a flood of lawsuits in recent years

The European Commission is dangerously divided over the controversial issue of software patenting, a source close to the discussions has told ZDNet UK.

The split threatens the creation of a clear European directive on the issue, which is expected this month and will inform EU member states on what policy they themselves should adopt.

Europe and US patent authorities currently stand on different sides of the fence as regards software patenting. In Europe it is possible to apply for software patents on software if the applicant can demonstrate that it has a 'technical effect'. In the US, however, patent applications are routinely accepted for software business processes, such as online reverse auctions.

The US position on software patenting is increasingly controversial within the technology industry because a number of technology firms have been granted patents for very basic business processes. This includes's patent on "one-click purchasing", a patent that has caused considerable uproar among competitors and technologists who argue that the process is fundamental to many Web commerce sites and not an innovation.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the EC Directorate responsible for Internal Markets is in favour of extending software patenting to cover basic business processes, arguing that this would be good for business, while the Directorate in charge of Competition is opposed, claiming that it would prove anti-competitive.

The European Patent Office voted recently against changing rules that currently prevent these types of software patents. That vote was expected to influence the EC's position, but news of the rift will cast a shadow over the issue.

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