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SMEs feeling excluded from EC patent consultation

Smaller tech companies claim they are being shut out of a process that could lead to the EU-wide introduction of software patents
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

An intellectual-property campaign group has criticised the way the European Commission is handling a public consultation on the patent system, claiming that it has "serious flaws".

In January, the EC launched a consultation that invites individuals and companies to comment on the Community Patent proposals and related changes to the current patent system, such as the launch of a European Patent Court.

But the Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) said on Wednesday it has received complaints from many smaller software companies across Europe who claim they are being excluded from the consultation as it is not available in their native language and due to the complexity of the consultation questionnaire.

The European Union has 20 official languages and has to publish its legislation in all of them. Although the consultation will impact future legislation, its questionnaire has only been made available in five languages — English, French, German, Dutch and Spanish.

Ignacy Miedzinski, the chief executive of Polish IT firm BPSC, said the lack of Polish documentation makes it difficult for them to take part.

"We expect to receive official EU documents in Polish," he said in a statement. "Working with French, German, or English texts is expensive and slow and a real barrier to our participation in such consultations."

The complex background information that is required to answer the consultation questionnaire is also a barrier, according to some SMEs.

"It really looks like we are not supposed to take part in this process. As far as I can see, only a specialist in EU patent law could really answer the questionnaire," said Joachim Carvalho, the chief technical officer of Portuguese IT firm X64, in a statement.

Laura Creighton, the founder of Swedish venture capital firm Sekans, pointed out that given the interest that smaller businesses have in this issue, she is surprised that the EC has not made more effort to get them involved.

"For such an important issue, which has been debated for years, we would expect to see much better information provided to the SMEs who should be involved," she said in a statement.

The inclusion of SMEs in the consultation is important as they are responsible for half of Europe's turnover and employ more than 53 percent of Europe's workforce. In addition, SMEs played a key role in last year's successful campaign against the software patent directive.

UEAPME, an association that represents more than 11 million companies employing around 50 million people, the Confederation of European Associations of Small and Medium Enterprises, which represents more than 500,000 businesses, as well as a number of individual businesses expressed their opposition to the directive. However, not all SMEs are against software patents, with pro-patent organisation EICTA claiming to represent 10,000 "small, medium and large companies" in Europe.

The FFII claims that the proposals the Commission has put forward in the consultation document could lead to the EU-wide introduction of software patents and the transfer of power from individual patent offices to the European Patent Office, which has continued to grant software patents despite the European Parliament's rejection of the software patent directive.

Florian Mueller, the founder of NoSoftwarePatents.com, agreed on Wednesday that replying to the consultation requires people to "wade through hundreds of pages of legislative proposals and related documentation", but called on SMES and individuals to not let this put them off.

"It's the usual EU lobby-cracy. Still it's very important that many of us write to the EC in order to stress that most of Europe's IT industry is against software patents and patent inflation," he said.

Mueller has published information to help people respond to the consultation on his blog.

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