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The patent vote: who won that round, exactly?

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After this week's surprising defeat of the European directive on Computer Implemented Inventions, there is a strange consensus emerging from the press offices of nearly all the campaigning groups. The rejection of the bill by parliament has been welcomed by almost everyone involved, and naturally, everyone is claiming it as a victory.

Anti-software patent campaigners have welcomed the vote wholeheartedly, and have even begun sniggering quietly at the pro-patent lobbyists for the amount of cash they've been hurling at the whole thing.

Speaking to The Register on Wednesday, campaigner Florian Muller had argued that the methods employed by the pro-patent camp had failed. "The lobbying costing millions of Euros hasn't worked, because it was misleading."

He went on to say that pure software firms like SAP adding their voices to support the directive had ended up undermining it, because it revealed that the pro-patent lobby was not sincere in its protestations that no pure software patents would be allowed.

In a statement released today, Muller said that the pro-patent camp was now trying to salvage a victory. "If I had spent so much money, I'd want to walk out of the shop with something more than a failed attempt to enshrine software patents in European statutory law," he said. "They could have had that for free any time."

The Business Software Alliance, one of the loudest pro-patent lobby groups, has very generously said that it respects the vote of the European Parliament, and further, that it supports its call for a period of reflection.

"Although we would have welcomed a harmonisation of laws throughout Europe, at least the intellectual property protection that innovators had yesterday will remain the same tomorrow - and that is critical for European competitiveness," said Francisco Mingorance, BSA, the BSA's European director of public policy.

"We commend the Parliament for acting with courage and prudence in resisting the fierce offensive of those who wanted to weaken Europe's intellectual property system," he added.

Microsoft would not comment on the outcome of the vote, referring all queries instead to EICTA, the pan-European trade body for high-tech firms. EICTA, despite having campaigned hard to have parliament pass the bill, also commended MEPS for rejecting "legislation that could have narrowed the scope of patent legislation in Europe".

Likewise, the Campaign for Creativity, representing small businesses in support of the bill, also claimed a victory. Its website now bears the legend: "CII (Computer Implemented Inventions) saved in Europe".

But for the Free Software Foundation, Europe, the suggestion that a strong directive would have prevented technology from being patented, is a distraction from what the real debate has been about.

"This outcome does not affect patents on high-tech inventions in any way," explains Stefano Maffulli, a spokesman for the group.

"High-tech innovation has always been patentable, and even if the directive had been passed with all proposed amendments, it would have remained patentable. It is important to point this out because the proponents of software logic patents have tried to confuse people about high-tech inventions being subject of this directive." ®

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