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EC begins new pan-European patent love-in

Or is it a war?

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Yesterday's public hearing on the future of pan-European patent legislation has been hailed as "day one" in a new war on software patents, as support gathers for the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA).

Commissioner Charlie McCreevy maintained his backing for the EPLA, which he describes as a promising route forwards.

But critics of the scheme argue that it will make the cost of pursuing a patent lawsuit even higher than it already is, and accuse McCreevy of siding with big business. They also worry that the EPLA would give too much power to the European Patent Office, without a corresponding increase in accountability.

The EPO is also regularly criticised for granting patents with too broad a scope, and free-software advocates are concerned that under an EPLA, more software and business method-type patents would be granted.

Anti-software patent campaigner Florian Mueller was one of around 50 people to address the hearing, which had around 200 attendees. The vast majority of those speaking were supporters of the EPLA, but there were a few surprising dissenters, such as "Nokia's Tim Frain [who] voiced a sceptical position on the EPLA", Mueller said.

Frain outlined six areas of concern including comparative costs, the quality of judicial decisions, and "a need to balance the interests of right holders and alleged infringers", Mueller added.

Frain told the hearing that while the EPLA in its proposed form is "good for right holders", Nokia is not always the plaintiff, but sometimes the defendant in patent lawsuits.

He said that Nokia was also worried about a pan-European litigation process, since Nokia generally only enforces its patents one country at a time. He worries that a pan-European injunction would be disruptive for business.

Mueller predicts the next step for the Commission will be to determine whether or not the EU needs to be involved in finalising the details and application of the EPLA. ®

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