IT hardware makers back EU patent directive

But Poland will oppose it

EICTA, the European Information and Communication Technology Association, has stepped up its campaign in support of patents for computer-implemented inventions with a new site, Patents4Innovation.org.

This aims to persuade people that the current form of the Directive on computer implemented inventions will boost innovation. Failure to adopt the legislation will jeopardise the work and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of researchers and inventors employed in Europe's high-tech industries, claims EICTA, whose members include many prominent IT hardware firms.

In Poland, authorities have come to almost exactly the opposite conclusion. The government there has reportedly changed its stance and will now oppose the directive when the council meets to discuss it on 25 November. According to Rzeczpospolita - a Polish newspaper - the government has concluded that in its current form, the directive will be of no benefit to the European software industry, and could even have an adverse effect on the industry in Poland. The full article is here, in Polish.

Mark MacGann, director general of EICTA, commented: "This Directive is extremely important for the future of innovation in Europe as it concerns two-thirds of all inventions in the European high-tech industry."

He argues that the issue has been made emotional "as a result of the sensationalized and inaccurate treatment by opponents to the legislation". He described suggestions that the Directive paved the way for patents on software as "fallacious", and says that the technology industry rejects such patents.

A statement on the new EICTA site reads:

Patents for software have never existed and should never exist in Europe because software is already protected by copyright law. Patents will only be granted for inventions of a technical nature. These include inventions in medical equipment, cars, mobile phones, aircraft, televisions, voice- and image-recognition devices, digital rights management solutions, and countless other examples.

However, the terms of the directive are infamously broad, and EICTA's statements are misleading. Even PriceWaterhouseCoopers recognises that the directive could have wide ranging, and even unforseen consequences. Three areas of the directive cause most of the problems:

1. To be considered patentable, a computer-implemented invention must involve a so-called inventive step, that is, it must make a technical contribution. However, despite a tiny last-minute change to placate the Germans the directive does not define the term "technical", leaving the lawyers a lot of room to play in.

2. Patent holders are not required to make an all-comers general license available to parties who want to write software that interoperates with the patented process.

3. The draft allows for program claims, so that even supplying patented code, as opposed to running it on a computer, will be an infringement of the patent. This will make it impossible to post sections of code on websites, common practice in developer communities.

Anti-patenting organisations, such as the FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) and FSFE (Free Software Foundation, Europe), warn that because the directive is so loose in its terminology, it is open to abuse. The FFII in particular cautions that although it can be read as only allowing patents for software that supports a physical process, it could be used to support patenting of software business methods.

The directive is currently awaiting its much delayed second reading. ®

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