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Europe's Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy on Monday launched an initiative that could re-open the controversial software patents debate.

As part of the initiative McCreevy has unveiled a public consultation on how future action in patent policy to create an EU-wide patent system can take account of "stakeholders' needs." The Commissioner is also looking for feedback as to how to improve the patent system in Europe.

Both individuals and businesses are invited to contribute to the consultation which will run until 31 March. In launching the initiative McCreevy said that the European Commission wants to make the single market for patents "a reality." He urged individuals and businesses to give their views on how that could be achieved.

Back in July 2005, the European Parliament voted by a huge majority to reject the Computer Implemented Inventions directive, which would have created a single EU-wide patent process for software-related inventions. The controversial directive had sparked bitter debates between big business and smaller software developers and technology firms.

The bill had been supported by the European pro-patent lobby, which included corporations such as Microsoft which claimed that the directive would encourage investment in research and development in Europe.

On the other hand, it was strongly opposed by anti-patent groups, including software developers IrishDev, who felt that it would result in a small number of large corporations owning the majority of patents. These groups argued that this would lead to restrictive licensing practices which could hinder innovation.

The directive had also been previously rejected by the European Parliament at committee level but as a result of a concerted push by McCreevy and the Commission, it was resurrected. McCreevy has long been a supporter of the patents directive and this latest move is unlikely to be welcomed by those opposing the bill.

Feedback obtained from those taking part in the consultation will form the basis of a hearing, which the Commission is organising in Brussels on 13 June.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

[Editor's note: in the original version of this article, Sun was referred to as a supporter of software patents. It is of course anything but ...]

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