EU's lawmakers reject software patent legislation
By Tobias Buck in Brussels
Published: February 17 2005 18:18 | Last updated: February 17 2005 18:18
A controversial European Union law to regulate patents for the software
industry was thrown further into doubt on Thursday after the European
parliament made a rare demand for it to be withdrawn.
The move, backed by the leaders of all parliamentary groups, underlined
the hostility felt by many towards the draft law, and has been seen as
evidence of parliament's desire to carve out an independent role for
The law, often described as the software patents directive, has already
split the software industry down the middle. Many big companies such as
Nokia, Siemens, Microsoft and Philips support it, arguing that strong
intellectual property rights reward investment in research and
They also warn that a restrictive approach to patenting software-related
inventions could mean that businesses will lose protection for thousands
of previously patented inventions.
But many smaller developers have attacked the draft law, warning that it
will concentrate patents in the hands of a few big companies and freeze
out smaller groups.
In its present form the directive would allow companies to register
patents for software that makes a "technical contribution", for example
helping a mobile phone save battery power or improving the picture of a
Critics say, however, that the text is worded in a way that would also
allow companies to win patent protection for "pure" software, for
example the Windows operating system. Such patents, they argue, would
then prevent developers from building on widely used computer codes to
create new products.
Following the parliament's move, the European Commission will now have
to decide whether to table a new proposal - which would push back
adoption of the law by many years - or to fight for the legislation in
its present form.
Its choice will depend to a large degree on the support of EU member
states, which have also grown increasingly sceptical of the directive.
EU governments informally backed the current version of the law last
summer, but in a highly unusual move have since refused to grant formal
This has left the draft directive in legal limbo for more than half a
year, and encouraged the parliament to make yesterday's demand for a
The Commission said it would decide what to do about the law after a
meeting of industry ministers in early March. For now, however, it would
not withdraw the proposal.
Defending parliament's decision, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a senior member of
the chamber's Green party, said: "It is eminently clear that only
monopoly-seeking multinationals have an interest in software patents."
Mark MacGann, president of Eicta, an association of software groups that
support the law, said: "To be faced with this legal limbo is not helpful
to European industry."
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