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As the timer counts down to the next big vote on the European software patents directive, two groups representing small businesses in the region have launched last ditch efforts to persuade MEPs of the dangers or merits of the current form of the bill.

The Campaign for Creativity, a pro-patent lobby group, has called for MEPs to support what it calls "strong patent protection of computer implemented inventions". A rejection of the directive now would have a negative impact on jobs and growth in the European Union, it warns.

The group stressed that software patents are indeed important to smaller businesses as well as large corporate players, citing a Business Software Alliance study that found one in five patents is held by a small or medium-sized company.

Of course, the flip side of that is that four out of five patents are held by large firms. We just wanted to point that out.

Meanwhile, The Economic Majority, a new anti-software-patent lobby group backed by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), argues that most small businesses in Europe are not in favour of a strong software patent regime.

It says that the European Commission's assertion that there is an "economic majority in favour of software patents" is wrong, and based on flawed research: In 2000, the Commission canvassed opinion about extending patentability. According to the FFII, 90 per cent of respondents did not support extending patentability of software, but said the Commission disregarded these responses as being not "economically representative".

Last week the Parliamentary JURI committee voted to scrap most of the amendments to the directive that had been proposed to restrict the patentability of pure software inventions. This provoked as much criticism from the anti-software patent camp as it drew praise from Eicta, the trade body representing big technology companies.

Critics of the bill say the current form of the directive allows for direct software patentability of computer programs, data structures and process descriptions, and will pave the way for a software patent arms-race, as seen in the US.

The European Parliament is set to vote on the directive in its next plenary session in Strasbourg, on 6 July. The consensus is that it is likely to follow the line taken by the JURI committee. ®

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