EU braces for software patent demo

Man the barricades

Campaigners are mobilising tomorrow (14 April) in opposition to plans to establish US-style software patents in Europe.

This month the Irish Presidency of the EU referred back the controversial EU Directive on software patents to a committee of politicians from member states. The proposed draft text rejects all amendments made by the European Parliament last September and instead pushes for direct patentability of computer programs.

A demo will take place in Brussels tomorrow morning, culminating in a rally, speeches, performances and the release of balloons outside the European Council building. The rally begins at 11.30am at Luxemburg Square. Participants will wear t-shirts with the slogan: "No Software Patents - Power to the Parliament".

A similar demonstration last August attracted 400 protestors and is credited with demonstrating the unpopularity of software patent to MEPs.

In a parallel protest, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) is organising an online demo in which websites will post protest pages or banners expressing their opposition to software patents. More than 1100 sites have signed up for this protest.

James Heald, FFII's UK co-ordinator, condemned the "back-room stitch up" that led to the proposed draft text now under debate.

"All of the important amendments passed by the European Parliament in September are completely ignored. The draft text is deliberately blind to all of the problems which the Parliament tried to address," he said.

A last-ditch attempt by the Luxembourg delegation to ensure interoperability with patented standards was rejected.

Campaigners are opposed by representatives from large companies, including Nokia, which the FFII reports is engaged in energetic Pro-Patent Lobbying Efforts.

Nokia argues that software patents "provide incentives to undertake research and development in Europe, and to promote licensing and technology transfer". FFII says many IT companies, including Opera Software which provides browser software for Nokia phones, oppose this position.

Essentially, the current draft is proposing to override the current European patent rules, which explicitly state that "mathematical methods, schemes and rules for mental activity, methods of doing business and programs for computers are not patentable inventions". These would be replaced with a set of regulations which will make it very difficult for national courts to reject patents for algorithms and business methods such as Amazon One Click Shopping patent.

Open Source opponents argue this change in the rules would stifle innovation and tilt power even further to big multi-national corporations. Some economists also criticise the notion that software patents promote business growth.

Member states are scheduled to agree a position in time for a Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels on 17-18 May, where an agreement is due to be signed off. ®

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