Patent restart request ratified

The European Parliament is unequivocal: the software patent directive needs to go back to the drawing board. But the jury is still out on whether the Commission will listen
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

The European Parliament's request for the software patent directive to be started from scratch was ratified by senior members of the Parliament on Thursday, but campaigners from both sides are split on what will happen next.

Earlier this month the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) of the European Parliament demanded that the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive be started from scratch. A Parliament spokesman said on Thursday that this request was approved without debate by the Conference of Presidents -- the President of the Parliament and the chairmen of political groups -- and can now be passed to the European Commission, which must decide whether to agree to the request.

Initially, the EC was expected to adhere to the will of the Parliament, but recent indications suggest that it may ignore the request, having expressed disappointment that the EU Council had postponed ratifying the directive.

Hartmut Pilch, the president of pressure group the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), said on Thursday that he is unsure what will happen next. "It is not certain that the Commission will comply with the request of the Parliament, nor that it will use the opportunity to draft a good text," said Pilch. "The new Commission is not obliged to follow the Parliament's request and they might still try to keep all options open and ask the Council to adopt the agreement of last May without a new vote, so as to gain even more options for themselves."

Florian Mueller, the campaign manager of an anti-patent Web site, said that the mood at a press conference following Thursday's anti-patent demonstration in Brussels was confident.

"People are in an upbeat mood because of the Conference of President's decision and because it was unanimous -- now a strong political decision will be sent to the EC," said Mueller. "Everyone thinks it unlikely that the commission will ignore the request for a restart outright."

Even if the EC does accept the EP's request, it may still push the Council to adopt the directive to ensure that it has adhered to its standard procedures, according to Mueller. "There is a desire for the Council to adopt the directive to uphold the current working methods -- to show that every political agreement leads to a political decision," he said.

Hugo Lueders, the director of public policy at pro-patent organisation CompTIA, is also unsure what will happen next. He contends that software patents are needed to ensure that the EU can keep to the goals set by the "Lisbon Agenda" --- that the EU will become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010.

"While the repercussions of today's action are not yet clear, the role of strong IP as an engine of European growth as part of the Lisbon Agenda is beyond question," said Lueders. "Last May's political agreement in the [European] Council roundly delivers on the Agenda's goals, he added. "Recently, however, the benefits of the agreement have been obscured by special interests, working to muddy the waters and undermine the principles underlying the agreement: the fundamental role of intellectual property in the innovation lifecycle; the need to fairly protect and reward innovation, rather than encourage imitation and copying; and the need for legal clarity to encourage companies of all sizes to devote time to research and development."

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