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Software patents back to haunt Europe

Brussels braces for the next battle

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Intellectual property lobbyists are warning that new plans to shake up Europe's policy on patents could put patentable software back on the menu, as well as upping legal fees and putting small businesses in jeopardy.

Last year, the European parliament spectacularly voted to reject the proposed directive on Computer Implemented Inventions (CII) after anti-patent campaigners argued the bill was too broad in its scope.

Now, just over 12 months later, the issue looks set to return as the European Parliament is scheduled to vote next month on two motions for a resolution on European policy on patenting.

One proposal, the European Patent Litigation Agreement, essentially calls for the harmonising of patent laws across signatory states. It would mean an integrated judicial system and appeals process.

Parliament is due to vote on the proposal on 11 October, but three political organisations have filed a motion calling for "balance between the interests of patent holders...and of the public".

The draft has already been strongly criticised by anti-patent campaigners and businesses alike.

The three groups fighting the proposal now, the Greens, the European Socialists, and the GUE/NGL group, argue that it will increase litigation costs and, according to the critics, expose small and medium sized businesses to greater risks.

Critics also warn it would give too much power to the EPO, which hasn't got the best track record on granting software patents, without a corresponding increase in accountability.

Internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy has been accused of ducking questions on the proposal. The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure issued a statement describing McCreevy's responses to Parliamentary questions about the draft agreement as "a boiler plate text".

"In a series of six non-answers to members of the European parliament, the commission reveals that until now it is unable to comment on cost, judicial independence, jurisprudence, and treaty-related concerns. Meanwhile, McCreevy keeps praising the virtues of said draft agreement," the group said.

Instead of more litigation, it argued, Europe needs a better patent office.

PES spokeswoman for legal affairs Maria Berger and former French prime minister Michel Rocard said in a statement: "We are all for improvements to the European patent system, but we must continue the search for solutions within the framework of the EU. That includes the need for democratic control and truly independent courts." ®

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