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European patent protesters: 'Innovation--yes!'

About 300 people march through the streets of Brussels to show their disapproval of a proposed law on software patents. Patent foes take to the streets

Hundreds of people from across Europe gathered in Brussels on Thursday to demonstrate against software patents.

Protesters in Brussels

The demonstration was planned by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, or FFII, to protest the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions directive, which they fear will allow widespread patenting of software in Europe.

FFII spokesman Jonas Maebe said the demonstration attracted considerable support.

"There were some 300 people, which is quite a lot given that it was only announced a week in advance," Maebe said. "We also had participants from all over Europe, including (among others) Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland."

Maebe said that one of the key themes of the demonstration was that Europe should not be a "banana republic"--a nondemocratic or despotically run state.

Some campaigners claim that the EU Council's attempts to adopt the directive without vote or discussion during Agriculture and Fishery meetings in December and January were undemocratic, particularly as a change in the voting weights of EU members means that the EU Council members that supported the directive in May no longer have a majority vote.

"I think the banana-republic metaphor is a great way to express how many people feel about the Council and Commission: no discussions on substance, only attempts to quickly push everything quietly through at fishery meetings," Maebe said. "This is no longer just about software patents; it's now also about democratic legitimacy."


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

The 300 demonstrators walked past the buildings of the main EU bodies involved in the software patent directive--the EU Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

They then handed Christian Braun--Luxembourg's chief Council diplomat--a banana, a letter of protest and a poster showing some of the software patents that have already been granted.

The demonstrators also made a vocal protest against the directive during the march, Maebe said.

"While marching between the Council, Commission and Luxembourg permanent representation buildings, chants such as 'Innovation--yes! Litigation--no!' and 'This is not a banana republic!' could be heard," Maebe said.

The demonstration in Brussels was timed to coincide with a meeting of Parliament's Conference of Presidents, which agreed Thursday to ratify a request by Parliament's legal-affairs committee to rewrite the software patent directive from scratch. But it's uncertain whether the Commission will agree to the ratified request.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.