Lobbyists prepare for next software patent battle

This time the debate around software patents in Europe is going to be 'bigger and more complex' according to an anti-patent campaigner

Pro-patent companies and lobby groups are getting ready for the European Commission's next attempt to change the law around patents.

Last year, the directive on the patentability of computer implemented inventions, commonly known as the software patent directive, was rejected by the European Parliament.

But the debate around software patents has now reopened, with the EC's launch of a public consultation into how the patent system should be changed. Although this consultation does not mention software patents directly, there are fears that the Community Patent legislation could ratify the European Patent Office's current practice of granting software patents.

Guenther Schmalz, SAP's European director of IP, said last week that supporters of software patents plan to lobby the EU more effectively this time around, after last year's setback, according to news site Intellectual Property Watch.

"It's starting again," Schmalz reportedly said at a conference held by pro-patent organisation Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF). "And I hope this time we will be better prepared."

The conference was also attended by other pro-patent companies and groups, including Microsoft and the Association for Competitive Technology.

Florian Mueller, the founder of Nosoftwarepatents.com and a key campaigner against last year's directive, said the next battle over software patents could be more difficult to fight than the last.

"The new patent fight is going to be bigger and more complex because the Commission appears to be looking at the introduction of a community patent, the harmonisation of substantive law, that is, what can and cannot be patented, a streamlining of the judicial system and possibly also some patent quality initiatives," he said.

Although Mueller stopped campaigning full-time against software patents early last year to concentrate on other projects, he said that he may consider returning.

"I can imagine becoming involved again if medium-sized IT companies are prepared to provide a much more significant war chest this time around. We'll definitely need more resources than the last time," he said.