EU patent decision postponed

The EU Council will postpone its decision on making software patentable until 2005, a sign of mounting political pressure against the decision, which could now be pushed back to next March

Belgian minister Marc Verwilghen told his parliament on Tuesday that the EU Council will postpone its decision on the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive until 2005.

Verwilghen told the Belgian parliament that the vote will be delayed, according to a summary transcript of his speech. "The Competitiveness Council will not vote on this project before 2005," said Verwilghen.

Verwilghen also told the parliament that there is a problem because the EU Council no longer has a qualified majority, according to a report by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII). The lack of qualified majority has occurred due to a change in the voting weights of EU members, which means that the EU Council members who supported changes to the directive in May no longer have a majority vote.

According to the FFII Web site it does not think a decision is likely until early next year. "I am not sure that the directive will be formally adopted in a rush," said the FFII. "I think March will be a likely candidate for a formal approval date."

Florian Mueller, the founder of an anti-patent Web site, said the EU Council could still adopt the proposal, but the delay may be a sign of mounting political pressure to prevent the law on software patenting being relaxed, particularly as the EU has recently completed translating the documents on the directive into 20 EU languages -- a requirement before the EU Council can vote on any decision.

"What has happened now does not make it procedurally impossible for the EU Council to vote [on the proposal], but it tells a lot," said Florian. "The Council is ready to go, but appears to be unable to do it for political reasons."

Over the last six months, numerous countries have expressed their concerns about the EU Council proposal. In July, the Dutch parliament passed a resolution calling the government to change the vote of the Netherlands from support to abstention. In October, the German political parties united in their support against patents, in contradiction to the German EU Council vote in May.

In November, the Polish government withdrew its support for the software patent directive, whereas in May it had abstained, which had been interpreted by some as support for the directive. Later in November, an Austrian politician warned the Austrian Minister of Commerce and Industry that the draft directive on software patents could cause 'lasting damage' to small and medium-sized IT companies.

Florian Mueller said the delay could be a sign that the EU Council proposal will be overturned. "I think what we are seeing is that the proposal of May 18 is really dying a death -- there has been a sequence of events that has destabilised the majority," said Mueller.

The FFII stated on its Web site that there are various reasons for the delay including the decision by the Dutch government, Poland's decision and the change in EU voting rights. But it conceded that Christmas could also be a reason for the delay.

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