Europe's patent proposal pending

European Parliament says software patent proposal must be rewritten. Whether European Commission will listen is another matter. Photos: Patent protesters take to the streets European patent protesters: 'Innovation--yes!'

Senior members of the European Parliament have ratified a request to send the software patent directive back to the drawing board, but campaigners on both sides are split on what will happen next.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament's legal-affairs committee requested that the directive regarding the patentability of computer-implemented inventions be rewritten.

As it now stands, the directive would legalize software patents. Supporters say the directive would protect research and development investments by European companies. Opponents say it would stifle innovation.

A parliament representative said the rewrite request was approved Thursday without debate by the Conference of Presidents--the president of the parliament and the chairs of political groups--and can now be passed to the European Commission, which will decide whether to agree to the request.

Initially, the Commission was expected to follow the parliament's request, but recent indications suggest that it may ignore the request, having expressed disappointment that the EU Council had postponed ratifying the directive.

Hartmut Pilch, president of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, said 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," Pilch said.

Florian Mueller, the campaign manager of an antipatent Web site, said the mood at a press conference following an antipatent demonstration in Brussels, Belgium, was confident.

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


The debate gets lively
when it comes to the
value of software patents.

Hugo Lueders, the director of public policy at The Computing Technology Industry Association, a pro-patent organization, 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 (intellectual property) as an engine of European growth as part of the Lisbon Agenda is beyond question," Lueders said. "Last May's political agreement in the (European) Council roundly delivers on the agenda's goals, he added.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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