European Parliament blocks patent liberalisation

Campaigners have blocked a proposal that they claim would have opened the floodgates to patent lawsuits across Europe
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted against a proposal that would have allowed companies to defend nationally granted patents throughout the EU region.

The proposal, which was included in a resolution concerning innovation policy, called for the "mutual recognition of patent laws in Member States". This would have meant that patents granted by the national patent office of any EU country would have been enforceable in all EU member states.

Florian Mueller, the founder of NoSoftwarePatents.com, said the proposal would have resulted in more litigation and more software patents. The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) was also concerned about its implications.

"The mutual recognition of national patents would result in a flood of patent suits all over Europe, lower-quality standards, and ever more software patents, among other things, because patent applicants would shop around to find patent offices that are most willing to grant patents which would then be valid in the entire EU," said the FFII in a statement on Wednesday.

European software patents are difficult to enforce largely because of the differences between national patent laws, according to campaigners.

The proposal was defeated after two parliamentary groups, the EPP-ED and ALDE, asked for a split vote on the passages covering patent liberalisation. Although the Parliament passed the majority of the resolution, it voted against the specific mutual recognition section.

Both Mueller and the FFII had called on MEPs to vote against the proposal.

Rufus Pollock, the director of FFII UK, said that the Parliament's vote was a "great result", but said it was vital that people participate in the European Commission's ongoing consultation on patent policy, to reduce the risk of further detrimental changes to the patent system.

"There will be many more and bigger challenges ahead as the Commission prepares new proposals concerning patent policy. It's very important that many companies and individuals write to the Commission before the deadline on 31 March," he said.

The FFII and Mueller have published information on their Web sites to help people respond to the consultation.

Some companies, including large IT companies such as IBM and SAP, argue that a more consistent patent system is needed in the EU to protect the rights of inventors. Campaigners such as Mueller and the FFII, on the other hand, say that the reforms proposed so far have been mainly aimed at making software patents easier to enforce in Europe.

They argue that software patents mainly benefit large companies, while leaving smaller firms and open-source projects open to attack. In the US, which has a liberal policy on software patents, even large companies such as Research In Motion, Microsoft and, ironically, patent leader IBM, have begun supporting reforms.

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