Patent directive faces fishy future

The EU Council is accused of 'last-minute manoeuvring' as it considers passing the EU software patent directive within an environment or fishery meeting

A controversial EU directive that opponents fear would allow software patenting within Europe could be passed without vote or debate before Christmas.

The EU Council had been expected to postpone a crucial decision on the the Computer-Implemented Inventions Directive until the New Year.

But, according to a Council agenda, EU diplomats will decide on Tuesday and Wednesday whether the directive will be included as an 'A-item' in the upcoming Fishery or Environment Council meetings, which will allow it to be passed without discussion or a vote.

Laura Creighton, the vice-president of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), is concerned that the EU Council could be contemplating passing the directive without discussion in an unrelated meeting.

"Before today it was possible for generous people to look charitably at this text [the proposed patent directive] as an example of a tragic mistake, not malice," said Creighton in a statement on the FFII Web site. "But not with this last-minute manoeuvring."

"Only the most committed opponent to the democratic process would believe that the proper response to the widespread consensus that there is something profoundly wrong with the Council's text is to race it through with an A-item approval the week before Christmas in a Fisheries Council Meeting. The bad smell coming from Brussels has nothing to do with the fish."

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.

Supporters of the directive deny that it would allow the widespread patenting of software.

"The proposal specifically excludes the patenting of software per se, but will allow patents for innovative implementations of software within new technical products," John Jolliffe of the Initiative for Software Choice told ZDNet UK.

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