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EU patent decision delayed

The move to make software patentable is delayed until 2005--a possible sign of mounting political pressure against directive.

The EU Council will postpone its decision to make software patentable--a possible sign of mounting political pressure against the decision.

"The competitiveness council will not vote on this project before 2005," Belgian minister Marc Verwilghen told his parliament on Tuesday, according to a summary transcript of his speech.

Verwilghen also told the parliament that there is a problem because the EU Council no longer has a qualified majority, according to a report by antipatent group Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII).

The lack of qualified majority has occurred due to a change in the voting weights of EU members, which means that the EU Council members that supported changes to the directive in May no longer have a majority vote.

Florian Mueller, founder of an antipatent Web site, NoSoftwarePatents.com, said that the EU Council could still adopt the proposal but that the delay may be a sign of mounting political pressure.

"The council is ready to go but appears to be unable to do it for political reasons," Mueller said. "I think what we are seeing is that the proposal of May 18 is really dying a death. There has been a sequence of events that has destabilized the majority."

Over the last six months, numerous countries have expressed their concerns about the EU Council proposal. In July, the Dutch parliament passed a resolution calling for the Dutch government to change the vote of the Netherlands from support to abstention. In October, the German political parties united in their support against patents, in contradiction to Germany's vote at the EU Council in May.

In November, the Polish government withdrew its support for the software patent directive, whereas in May it had abstained. Later in November, an Austrian politician warned the Austrian Minister of Commerce and Industry that the draft directive on software patents could cause "lasting damage" to small and midsized IT companies.

The FFII stated on its Web site that there are various reasons for the delay, including the decision by the Dutch government, Poland's decision and the change in EU voting rights. But it conceded that the Christmas holiday could also be a reason for the delay.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.