Patent directive deadlocked

The future of the software patent directive is in the balance, with the EU Council and the European Commission both waiting for the other to make the next move

The European Commission and the EU Council appear to have reached an impasse, with each waiting for the other to make a decision on the future of the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive (CIID).

Earlier this month the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) of the European Parliament demanded that the proposed software patent directive should be restarted from scratch. This request was ratified by senior members of the Parliament last week. The EC must now decide whether to accept the EP's request.

On Wednesday a European Commission spokeswoman said the directive is on the Council's agenda in two weeks time and it will not make a decision until the Council does.

"[I] understand that it is on the agenda for the Competitiveness Council on 7 March," said the Commission spokeswoman. "We will wait and see what the Council decides,"

But an EU Council spokeswoman would not confirm that the directive will be on the agenda on 7 March and claimed that the Council is waiting for the Commission to make a decision.

"As far as I know the Commission has not yet formally adopted a decision to the request put forward by the European Parliament," said the spokeswoman. "The Council is waiting to see the Commission's official position. That is the reason why for the time being there is no decision by the Council to include the point on the next Competitiveness Council agenda."

Some anti-patent campaigners believe that the Council is hesitant to adopt the directive due to pressure from the Parliament and from other individual nations' parliaments. Around a week after the EP asked for a restart, the Spanish and Dutch parliaments passed resolutions asking their respective governments to stop the Council from adopting the directive. Last week the German parliament voted on a similar motion.

Jonas Maebe, a spokesman for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, said parliamentary pressure appears to be stopping the Council from passing the directive as an A-item -- an item that is passed without vote or discussion.

"The Council bureaucracy simply does not want to cause any sort of controversy, and pushing something through as an A item while several parliaments have recently explicitly spoken out against that text is now becoming controversial as well," said Maebe.

Florian Mueller, the campaign manager of an anti-patent Web site, agreed that the Council is under pressure, and that it may hold a meeting to discuss what to do next.

"There are indications now that politicians are increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of adopting the Council's position as an A item," said Mueller. "So even if it gets on the agenda for 7 March, it won't necessarily be an A item. It's quite possible that they'll be doing what they should, which is to have a discussion as to how to proceed under the unique circumstances."

Maebe said the Commission may be pushing the Council to ratify the directive, so that the Commission would be under less pressure to accept the Parliament's request.

"From the Commission's statement it's clear that they want the Council to adopt its Common Position as soon as possible, which they would probably interpret as a partial relief of the pressure on them to honour the European Parliament's restart request," said Maebe.

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