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The debate on European patent law has been rekindled, but the pendulum may be swinging against those groups who favour Union-wide adoption of software patents, says electricnew.net's Ciaran Buckley.

The Greens/EFA Group of the European Parliament has announced that the EU's Competitiveness Council, which was to work on the Directive on the Patentability of Computer Implemented Inventions at its meeting on Friday, has dropped the directive from its agenda. The directive seeks to reduce the costs involved in the patent process and to unify Europe's disparate patent laws into a single code. The proposed law was a central plank in the Lisbon Agenda, which aims to make Europe the most competitive economic zone in the world by 2010.

The Green's take on the Competitiveness Council's decision is that it will result in the directive being referred back to Coreper, the Committee for EU Permanent Representative Offices, which would allow member states to reconsider the directive.

"Officially, the council has experienced translation difficulties with the new official languages of the EU," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Greens/EFA Group. "In reality this file is returning to Coreper in order to allow the technical discussions between experts from the member states to continue."

Cohn-Bendit said that the software regulations proposed by the Competitiveness Council on 18 June would have led to EU's economy being controlled by a small group of multi-nationals.

The proposed directive was originally drafted to ensure that software patents would be allowed in Europe. Its meaning was almost completely inverted by the European Parliament, in order to prevent the patenting of algorithms and certain computer processes, with services like Amazon.com's one-line shopping an often cited example. Subsequently, the Council of Ministers restored it to its original effect, but was unable to finalise the directive because of differences in opinion over the number of languages in which patents should be documented.

The European Parliament takes the view that strict software patents will stifle innovation among small European companies. Software would instead be covered by copyrights and algorithms and commercial methods might not be protected in any form.

The proponents of software patents argue that they actually help small companies, by protecting their technology from large multi-nationals. Other proponents have argued that SMEs and multi-nationals are entitled to protect their R&D and that a watered-down directive would lead to companies moving their R&D facilities out of Europe, into jurisdictions with stronger IP protection.

Copyright © 2004, ENN

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