High noon for software patent directive

A final decision on the European Computer Implemented Inventions Directive is imminent

Campaigners from both sides of the software patent debate have stepped up their efforts before the European Parliament votes on the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive on Wednesday.

MEPs will vote on a number of amendments to the directive in a plenary session of the Parliament. Many of these amendments will limit the extent to which software can be patented, it is believed.

One of the most hotly contested issues over the last few weeks has been the impact of the directive on SMEs.

Pro-patent organisation EICTA claimed on Monday that the directive does not favour large companies.

"It is a myth to think that this directive favours large companies over small. EICTA represents 10,000 small, medium and large companies in Europe, with over two million employees. These companies, working together, form an ecosystem of innovation that is indispensable to the EU's main objective of creating jobs and growth," Rudy Provoost, the president of EICTA said in a statement.

But, numerous trade organisations dispute this claim. UEAPME, an association that represents more than 11 million companies employing around 50 million people, is against the directive in its current form. It was critical of the European Parliament legal affairs committee's decision to reject some key amendments to the directive.

"The failure to clearly remove software from the scope of the directive is a setback for small businesses throughout Europe. UEAPME is now calling on the European Parliament to reverse yesterday's decision at plenary session next month and send a strong message that an EU software patent is not an option," said Hans-Werner Müller, UEAPME Secretary General, in a statement late last month.

The Confederation of European Associations of Small and Medium Enterprises (CEA-PME), which represents more than 500,000 businesses, again opposes the directive. To put its point of view across, it has sent a fax to all MEPs warning that the future of the SME-driven sector of Europe's economy is at stake, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastucture reported on Wednesday.

A statement on the CEA-PME Web site says: "The proposal of the software patent directive limits competitiveness within the software industry in favour of large international corporations."

The FFII has set up a Web site where companies can express their views against patents. So far, over 1,800 companies, with more than 30,000 employees between them and a total annual turnover of more than €3bn, have signed up to this Web site.

ZDNet UK recently examined some of the problems that SMEs face when filing and enforcing patents.