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Software patents and rebel MEPs

Voting record doesn't follow party line

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Letters With the European elections looming this week, we thought a look at the positions of the main political parties regarding the software patents debate would be in order. Of course, this being politics, what those politicians say, and what they do, do not always tally...

The article "Democracy and the software patenting debate" claims that "broadly speaking" only the Labour group of MEPs are in favour of the current software Patent directive. This is rather misleading, as it might lead readers to think that all other groups of MEP are likely to vote against a Software Patent Directive that is broadly in line with the current draft. This is not born out by an analysis of MEPs voting records, which suggest that in the case of the UK at least, only Green MEPs can be trusted to vote against software patents consistently.

The article states that "Even the Tories, whose natural position is on the side of big business, have their doubts [about the current form of the directive]". However, the doubts expressed by Malcolm Harbour were about the *anti* Software Patent amendments that were passed by MEPs. His concern is "to protect inventors" and, in effect, to find a wording for the Directive that can be sold to MEPs as a clarification exercise, rather than "new legislation" (presumably so that they will rubber-stamp it without attempting to add "confusing" anti-patent amendements).

Indeed, the current form of the directive is actually very close to the proposed Directive that came out of the JURI committee, which was almost universally seen as pro software patents. Malcolm Harbour was on this committee and supported the original Directive. I suspect that any doubts about the current draft by Malcolm Harbour and by some other groups of UK MEPs is limited to minor details of drafting, and not the general form.

When asked, most MEPs, include Malcolm Harbour, may state that they are against extending software patentability. But this is not the same as saying they will vote against something very like the current draft. MEPs will be briefed that the current draft does not extend patentability and merely clarifies the (de facto) current state of affairs (given that the EPO is already granting pure software patents in apparent breach of the European Patent Convention). I fear that many will belief this, and will not have the time or patience to seek and understand the truth; namely that the Directive change the status quo by legalising software patents.

Best wishes, Chris Fox

The Tory position is close to that of the UK patent office (UKPO), and is supportive of some kind of software patenting. The UKPO maintains that there will be no change to the status quo in the UK, and has told The Register that it is happy with the current form of the directive, on more than one occasion. However, Malcolm Harbour did express concerns about the nature of the directive as it stands now, not just about the amendments made by Parliament and discarded by the Council of Ministers.


However, as you will see below, the voting record is illuminating, too:

You seem to be being too generous to the Tories, and perhaps the Lib Dems too.

Having exchanged letters with several Tory MEPs on the software patent issue, it seems to me that they are mostly in favour. Almost all the Tories (with the exception of four) voted for patentability last time.

You said: 'Malcom Harbour, MEP for the Conservative Party explained the Tory position. "We need to find a formulation that clarifies patentability, but my concern is that people think this is entirely new legislation. The problem with the parliamentary amendments was that they introduced new concepts of patentability which would have made the directive even more confusing and unworkable. We need a formulation that will exclude business methods, but will still protect inventors."'

Translation: "we support the directive, which isn't really very much of a change anyway, and those pesky patent-limiting amendments that the European Parliament introduced cause more problems than they solve."

You also said: "The Liberal Democrats are very clearly against the directive as it stands."

yet they all voted for it last time, in clear contravention of party policy.

Gerv

We hoped to present the official party line for the main parties, rather than give an indication of how any particular individual may vote. The best thing to do, is to contact your MEP candidates individually and ask them what they know about the directive, and how they plan to vote.

We've heard from readers who have had difficulty getting detailed information from their candidates, so keep in mind that this is a complex issue and that you may need to explain it from first principles.

You can find the names of those who want to represent you here. ®

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