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Incoming EPO president reopens software patent debate

All change, please

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New head of the European Patent Office (EPO), Alison Brimelow, has signalled her intentions early, calling a public meeting to discuss the policy vacuum left by the rejection of the Directive on Computer Implemented Inventions.

Purists will argue that there is no such vacuum, of course, because a treaty drawn up in the '70s says there should be no patents granted on computer programs "as such". But it is true that today, computer technology is a far more important part of our lives, economically and otherwise, than it was when the European patent convention was drawn up in 1972. And it is much more diverse in nature.

Does the 1972 convention deal adequately with how best to offer protection to inventors working in this highly technical field? It is an important question, and not really one that as been properly answered.

Legislation is a living thing, and needs constant revision if it is to accurately reflect the needs of the societies it serves. Even though the European Parliament rejected the CII directive, that doesn't mean the status quo is OK. It just means that the CII directive was not the right update.

Brimelow says: "The task now is to make sure that the patents that we grant are relevant. What we need is not more patents, but more good patents. This will enable the EPO to remain a confident and competent organisation which can continue to set the global benchmark in patenting."

(You can read more about her plans here.)

So, this Thursday there will be a meeting in Brussels to try to unpick the knotty problems of patenting software. The EPO argues that the system is overwhelmed, overly bureaucratic, and hopelessly lost in lawyer land.

Since the rejection of the CII directive, the EPO notes that the number of patent applications in the fields most affected by it has not fallen. Neither has the number of appeals lodged with the technical board of appeals or national courts. And oddly enough, the number of grant procedures has also grown.

The goal of the meeting is to work out how to tackle these problems, or at the very least, to have an informed debate about the reality of the situation.

Interested parties are asked to register here. ®

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