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EU prefers 'computer-aided' patents

You say implemented, I say aided. The European Parliament wants to get rid of the term 'computer-implemented inventions' in a key directive because it implies that software can be patented

On Tuesday the European Parliament (EP) proposed a number of changes to the directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions, including a change to the name of the directive to make it clear that software cannot be patented.

Confusion over just what would be patentable under the directive has been such that it has become widely known as the software patents directive.

Now, Michel Rocard, the rapporteur for the EP's Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), has drafted amendments to the directive which, if agreed by the committee next week, will be voted on by MEPs in a plenary session of the European Parliament in July.

Rocard has proposed that the expression 'computer-aided invention' should be used rather than 'computer-implemented invention' throughout the directive text, including the title of the directive. This change is needed to make it clear that innovations can only be patented if they use software to aid the performance of the invention and not if they comprise software only, according to Rocard.

"The expression 'computer-implemented' is not suitable, because it may let one think that an invention can be wholly realised by means of a computer, which would mean that software can be patentable. Since both the [European] Commission and the [EU] Council agreed that software should not be patentable, the scope of the directive has to be defined so as to exclude this case," said Rocard in the draft amendment document.

Some of the proposed amendments revert to the changes introduced by the European Parliament in the first reading, which were later removed by the EU Council. This includes a change to make it clear that innovations in the field of data processing cannot be patented.

Jonas Maebe, a spokesman for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, told ZDNet UK in an email on Tuesday that he was pleased with the amendments proposed by Rocard.

"Overall, the compromise amendments proposed by Mr Michel Rocard MEP ensure that Europe can keep all of its future options open," said Maebe. "Keeping our options open for the future should be the core message of this directive. It is much easier to extend patent rights than to limit them."

Politicians should not make a decision on the patenting of software until the results are available from an EC-funded study on software patents, according to Maebe. The study, which is being conducted by researchers at the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology over the next two years, is investigating the legal, technical and economic effects of software patents on innovation.