Software patent fight moves to Parliament

Opponents of new European legislation on software patents say the next stage of their fight is to win over government ministers such as Lord Sainsbury

British companies and citizens who oppose the controversial changes to European law on software patents that were approved by the European Council earlier this week have been urged to lobby UK government ministers with their concerns.

On Tuesday the EC voted in favour of changes to the EU Software Patents Directive that appear likely to allow the widespread patenting of software in Europe.

Richard Allan MP, the Liberal Democrat IT spokesman, believes that putting heavy pressure on the department of Trade and Industry is the best way to fight against this.

"There is now an opportunity to reopen the debate, where people in the industry can put forward their views. We need to be persuading our ministers to take a more robust line, particularly Lord Sainsbury, who is in charge of patent policy," said Allan.

"Ultimately, they're the ones who vote for these changes."

Some MPs and ministers have already found themselves on the receiving end of lobbying over the issue of software patenting, according to Allan. Now could be the time to turn that trickle into a flood.

"The more concern that ministers receive, in particular from organised bodies who represent the UK software industry, the more they'll have to look at this," Allan explained.

There is still some confusion about the consequences of the EC's actions. According to the DTI, the EC's vote has removed many of the changes introduced last year by the European Parliament that would have limited the degree to which software programs could be patented.

Opponents of software patenting fear that the practice would have very damaging effects, as it would allow people to patent an idea rather than a physical device.

"They [software patents] are a really bad idea. The US did go too far in granting such broad patents for software and business methods as processes. It is stifling innovation and preventing legitimate market competition. The patent system just doesn't work well for software," said Robin Gross, attorney and executive directive of IP Justice, earlier this week.

But Intellect, a body representing the UK IT and telecommunications sectors, has given warm support to the EC's actions.

"If the Council had taken the decision to remove patent protection the UK's individual inventors, SMEs and large multinationals, would all have been unable to protect their inventions, undermining the incentives to undertake research and development and creating a climate adverse to technology transfer," said John Higgins, director-general of Intellect.

"This is a situation which would have put UK businesses at a distinct disadvantage within the global knowledge-driven economy."