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Poland has intervened again to stop the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries from rubber-stamping the EU directive on computer implemented inventions.

Late last week, the controversial legislation, better known as the software patent directive, was reported to be an A-List item on the agenda of the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries. This would have seen it voted through to its second reading.

Polish under-secretary from the ministry for science and IT, Wlodzimierz Marcinski, first made his opposition to the directive known last year. He said: "Poland is determined to opt for unambiguous expression in the law of the European Union on issues connected with the patentability of computer-implemented inventions, which at the same time must ascertain that computer programs are excluded from patentability."

Thanks to the second Polish intervention, the vote has been delayed. Opponents of the bill say that the JURI committee (responsible for legal affairs) now has a window of opportunity to restart the whole process. JURI is scheduled to meet in Brussels on 2 and 3 February, and Florian Muller of pressure group No Software Patents, says there is a good chance that the committee would vote to restart.

So what will happen next?

"That is the $64,000 question," says Jeremy Philpott, a spokesman for the UK Patent Office. "Don't forget we are looking at adoption of a common position here. If it is adopted, it will move on to its second reading. If it isn't, it'll just lie of the fringes of the parliament."

He suggests that it would be better to send it forward to its second reading, and deal with any perceived problems there, rather than try to unpick it.

Going back to the beginning, even on legislation as controversial as this, could set a worrying precedent for lawmaking in Europe, Philpott warns. The alternative is a scenario where even the most basic tenets of a piece of legislation would be open to negotiation right up to the last minute, inevitably drawing out the process and making it more difficult to pass laws, he says.

"Some commentators have concerns about unpicking a common position. The common position is a point which all parties have agreed to, from which you don't backtrack." ®

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