Europeans vote against software patents

Change to convention blocking software patents doesn't get the international vote

European representatives on Wednesday voted against plans to change a European Patent Convention which prohibits software patents being granted by the European Patent Office.

Opponents to patenting software -- or more correctly, software processes -- have branded the decision a crucial victory.

The European Commision has ordered a consultation on the issue due to complete 15 December. It could rule to allow the European Patent Office to allow software patenting regardless.

This follows a campaign by a number of organisations representing the interests of programmer spearheaded by the EuroLinux Alliance. These groups believe that software patents, which allow the most basic software processes to be protected by copyright, would restrict software development.

The European Patent Office has in fact granted 13,000 software patents in defiance the European Patent Convention although no legal disputes have resulted from these. They include patents for one-click purchasing, an Internet auction system and a Web database publication system.

Pilch Hartmut, the German spokesman for the EuroLinux and director of the Free Information Infrastructure (FII) says the decision not to change the law on patents marks an important victory for software developers. "It would have been disastrous if they hadn't," he says. "There really is just so much anxiety in the programming community about removing programming freedom."

In the US software patents are permitted and Hartmut claims that this has led damaged the software industry by resulting in myriad legal disputes.

LINK to LINUX Special please

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read what others have said.