PwC: software patents threat to Europe

Few prepared for consequences

Services and accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers has formally identified software patenting as a threat to the growth and success of ICT in Europe.

In a report prepared this summer for the Dutch EU presidency, PwC lists ten ICT breakthroughs it says are needed to resume the pace of growth Europe experienced during the IT boom. Under the fifth, entitled "Go for global platform leadership in the ICT industry", the report states that the "current discussion on the patent on software" represents a "particular threat" to the European ICT industry.

In a preface, Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Minister of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands, says that the aim of the document is to present "a list of breakthroughs that we may need to achieve our Lisbon-goals".

He argues that Europe, particularly a post-dot-com-crash Europe, with ten new member states, needs to re-evaluate how best to meet its own targets for economic, social and environmental renewal, set out in Lisbon, in 2000.

This is what it has to say about software patenting:

The mild regime of IP protection in the past has led to a very innovative and competitive software industry with low entry barriers. A software patent, which serves to protect inventions of a non-technical nature, could kill the high innovation rate. However, opinions on software patent in its current proposed form vary a lot. Many large companies operating on a global scale, including European ones, seem to be in favour of a software patenting regime. But most small enterprises are strongly opposed.

Only very few European companies have prepared themselves for the consequences of a software patent regime. It raises the question how the introduction of the European software patent interacts with a European strategy based on widespread use of ICT's.

The authors have chosen their words carefully, and in doing so, have got straight to the really messy parts of the whole debate: what exactly constitutes a technical effect; and who will really benefit from the directive becoming law.

The report, entitled Rethinking the European ICT Agenda: Ten ICT-breakthroughs for reaching Lisbon goals is posted on the anti-software patenting campaigners, FFII.org's website. (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure). You can access it (pdf) here. ®

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