EU to throw patents in with the bath water

The EU software patent directive will be passed by the EU Council next week, at the same time as a law on bathing water quality
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
The controversial EU directive that opponents fear will allow software patenting within Europe will be passed without vote or debate on Monday.

According to a Council agenda, the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive will be adopted during an Environment meeting, which is also due to deal with the issues of bathing water quality and batteries.

Scottish National Party MEP Ian Hudghton said he is unhappy that the EU Council is hastily pushing this directive through, given the concerns that have been raised.

"The apparent rush on this issue is unacceptable," said Hudghton. "The proposed software patents directive caused a great deal of controversy both in the European Parliament and the Council. Issues of this nature should not be fast-tracked onto the statute book."

Once the Council has adopted the directive, it will go back to the EU Parliament for a second reading. Parliament will then have three months in which to make its views known. Hudghton said it is likely that the proposal will evoke discussion in Parliament as a large number of MEPs are against the proposal.

"The Council should think again if they believe that they are going to get an easy ride through the Parliament during this directive's second reading," said Hudghton. "There is a sizeable proportion of MEPs who believe that the whole proposal is misconceived. The Council must recognise this and understand that the democratically elected representatives will not allow their views to be ignored."

Politicans from Holland, Germany, Poland and Austria have publicly spoken out against the directive.

If the directive is passed by the EU Parliament there is disagreement about what will happen next. Some have expressed concerns about "patent war" breaking out, where patents are used by large corporations to crush smaller competitors or open source projects. Linux creator Linus Torvalds has said that software patents constitute the single biggest threat to the future success of the open source operating system.

But these concerns are rejected by pro-patent organisation EICTA, which is supported by various large multinationals including IBM and HP. Peter Hayward, a director at the UK Patent Office (UKPO), also rejected this fear at a meeting at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) earlier this week. "We, the UK, have written some protection [into the directive] to make sure it can't open the floodgates," Hayward said. 

Steve Probert, a deputy director at the UKPO, claimed that it will be easier to contest software patents that shouldn't have been granted as the law will be clarified.

"We have conceded that patents have been granted that shouldn't have been," Probert told the DTI. "It's a heck of a lot easier to challenge patents if you have a law. If any have slipped through it should be easier to invalidate them using [the directive]."

Update: The EU directive will now be passed on Tuesday -- for more details please click here.

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