EICTA, the European Information and Communication Technology Association, wrote to the parliament's legal committee this week, calling for the introduction of. EICTA argued that patents would protect the investments made by European companies in research and development, protect jobs and encourage the sharing of information among companies.
"Europe is a prominent player in software-enabled inventions in many areas, such as health care, telecommunications, mobile phones, cars, aviation and consumer electronics. Europe needs patents to maintain and strengthen its leadership," wrote EICTA.
However, EICTA's position is being challenged by some who oppose the introduction of software patents, such as the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII).
"The EICTA is repeating the same dubious and inaccurate claims that have been heard for so long," said Rufus Pollock, U.K. spokesman for the foundation.
Pollock added, "These latest comments smack of desperation, coming as they do at a time when there have been extremely positive signs that both the EU parliament and national legislatures are aware of the dangers that unrestricted software patents pose to innovation."
Europe's various legislative bodies have very different views on whether software patenting should be permitted. The European Council of Ministers wants to, as part of its measures to harmonize patent law across Europe, but the European Parliament .
In September 2003, the European Parliament tried to water down the council's Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions by adding amendments to it that would restrict widespread software patenting.
This move was rejected by the council in May, and the parliament is expected to begin its work again in November. Because the parliament has appointed former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard--who has described himself as a "supporter of free software"--to lead its response to the council, there is speculation that it could take a hard line.
EICTA, which represents 50 multinational companies and 32 industry associations, warned the parliament in its letter that if it wasn't possible to license patents for software-enabled inventions, Europe would lose thousands of jobs.
"Europe would become a haven for plagiarism," EICTA said. "European industry, stripped of patent protection in its home market, would lose considerable market share to those who do not invest in R&D (research and development) and simply copy."
Unsurprisingly, the FFII has a different take, arguing that software patents actually threaten innovation.
"Without patents, Europe would be a haven not for plagiarism but for innovation at its most dynamic," Pollock said.
"Moreover," Pollock added, "as all informed observers know, promoting innovation is a matter of striking a correct balance between protection and monopoly. Innovation and ideas must be 'adequately rewarded,' and this is precisely what software patents do not do."
The foundation is currently gathering testimony on software patents from British businesses and developers, which it plans to pass on to the U.K. government.
Campaigning is also taking place around Europe, with the four main German political parties all backing a move to demand changes to the European Council's position.
Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.