EU delays patent decision

The EU Council has postponed passing the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive until Tuesday - but opponents say it is pushing the legislation through in a way that 'puts diplomatic procedures above democratic principles'

The EU directive that opponents fear will allow widespread software patenting within Europe will be passed without vote or debate on Tuesday, a day later than planned.

Last Friday a Council agenda stated that the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive would be adopted on Monday, but this has since been taken off Monday's agenda.

A spokeswoman for the EU Council said the directive will be passed at an Agriculture and Fisheries meeting on Tuesday. It is not included as an item on the published agenda for this meeting, but the EU spokeswoman said this is because it is an "A-item", and that such items are passed without vote or discussion.

The spokeswoman was unsure of the reason for the delay, but thought it may have been due to a translation issue. The EU must translate the documents on the directive into 20 EU languages before any decision can be passed.

This is the latest in a series of changes in the timing on the directive. The EU Council was due to adopt an official position on 24 September, after the EU Council members voted in May in favour of the change to the directive. This decision was then delayed until the end of November.

At the beginning of December a Belgian minister told his parliament that the decision would be postponed until 2005. A week later a Council agenda was put online, which indicated that the directive was likely to be passed within an environment or fishery meeting.

Since the initial vote on the directive, the voting weights of EU members have changed, which means that the EU Council members which initially supported the proposed directive no longer have a majority vote. Florian Mueller, the founder of an anti-patent Web site, said he is concerned that despite this change in voting weights the EU Council is still pushing ahead a decision.

"To me, the issue is not whether it's the Environment or the Agricultures and Fisheries Council where they formalise their decision," said Mueller. "The real problem is that they put diplomatic procedures above democratic principles. Without a qualified majority on the day of the actual decision, there should not be a decision. This has nothing to do with software patents. It's about EU democracy as a whole."

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