European Commission Delays Action on Software Patents

A week after the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament demanded that the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive be rewritten, the European Union has delayed plans to approve the controversial rules providing for patenting computer software.

Observers expected EU ministers to endorse the bill next Thursday and send it to a second reading in the European Parliament, but Luxembourg, the bloc’s current president, has taken the issue off the meeting’s agenda.

“The Commission regrets very much that the software patent will not be on the agenda. It has been removed,” Commission spokesman Olivier Drewes told a news conference. Drewes said the legislation had run into new problems, but declined to offer details.

Battle Continues

The Dutch parliament reportedly asked the government yesterday to ensure that the patent bill would not be approved next week without new discussion. Poland helped block a version of the draft law the EU governments agreed to last May, but has since dropped its opposition to the legislation. The Netherlands has backed the legislation.

Opponents, including the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), have aggressively lobbied against the directive, claiming it would lead to widespread patenting of software in Europe, which the foundation opposes. Supporters of the patent rules deny that claim.

The FFII is dedicated to the spread of data processing literacy. It supports the development of public information goods based on free competition and open standards.

Michael Q. Lee, attorney with Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox in Washington, D.C., told the E-Commerce Times that small software companies are at a marked disadvantage if they can’t patent inventions.

“Europe is behind the times and so companies that work in Europe are really at a disadvantage,” Lee said. “Their ideas and inventions can essentially be stolen by others. Small companies certainly don’t have the marketing clout or the finances to battle a large company.”

U.S. Versus EU Patent Laws

Lee said the United States allows small companies to protect themselves through patents, and it doesn’t distinguish between hardware and software inventions because each requires the same amount of inventive energy.

What will happen now? Lee said that appears to be “up in the air.”

“The worst case scenario from a legal perspective is that there will be no patent law and it will be open season on small companies with software inventions,” Lee said. “Innovation comes from small companies, and they have no incentive to develop new products if a larger company can just swoop in and take it.”

2 Comments

  • I quote the lawyer that was quoted:
    "Innovation comes from small companies, and they have no incentive to develop new products if a larger company can just swoop in and take it".
    I AM the CEO of a small company and have interviewed many other CEO of smaller companies
    in Belgium. Just replace one word in the
    statement of the lawyer and you know how we, small business owners look at it:
    "Innovation comes from small companies, and they have no incentive to develop new products if a larger company can just kill them in court."
    We are MUCH more afraid of million dollar lawsuits, based on some general software patents on the progress bar, mouse movements etc. than we
    are from fair, regular and open competition with large encumbants.
    The only reason why the big companies in USA and EU are promoting software patents, is because it allows them to sign cross-licensing deals (the
    new variant of Kartels) to kill-off any newcomers
    on the block.
    Can we please not listen to lawyers who are a prime suspect for promoting the patents from a
    self-guided interest in favor of the maintenance of patents, but listen to the small business
    owners that face terrible risks if software patents would become reality in Europe.
    Thanks,
    Peter

  • You quote the following from a patent attorney: "Lee said the United States allows small companies to protect themselves through patents, and it doesn’t distinguish between hardware and software inventions because each requires the same AM ount of inventive energy."
    Why do you not add a completely different view (that of SMEs) which constantly asks the question: "What is the evidence to show patents generally protect small companies and by the way, please show us any evidence that patents aid innovation."
    I might add that the remark that hardware and software requires the same effort is (patent) nonsense. How long did it take for MS to develop and apply for ‘ISNOT’?

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