Battle over patents for computerised inventions heats up before Parliament vote

In light of the Parliament’s upcoming vote on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions, critics voiced their discontent with the Commission’s proposal.

The proposed Directive, which was submitted to the Council and the Parliament for adoption under the co-decision procedure, sparked off a fierce debate. There are fears that although the directive is not designed for such a purpose, it would allow for software patents to be introduced through the back door. These views are supported by some 150.000 signatories of a petition for ‘a free Europe without software patents’, including 2,000 company owners, 2,500 developers and engineers from information and telecommunication industries, as well as more than 2,000 scientists and 180 lawyers (see alsoEURACTIV 24 June 2003).



On 17 June, the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee gave the green light to the proposal, after implementing various amendments with a view to narrowing the definition of the term 'computer-implemented inventions' to exclude computer software programmes as such, but only devices such as mobile phones, household appliances, engine control services, machine tools and computer programme related inventions. However, critics believe that these amendments do not go far enough (see alsoEURACTIV 19 June 2003).



On 20 February 2003, the Commission presented a proposal for a Directive on the protection by patents of computer-implemented inventions. The proposed Directive would harmonise the way in which national patent laws deal with inventions using software. Such inventions can already be patented by applying to either the European Patent Office (EPO) or the national patent offices of the Member States, but the detailed conditions for patentability may vary. The Commission maintains that a Directive will present a crucial step towards eliminating a significant barrier to trade in patented products within the internal market resulting from the fact that certain inventions can be protected by patent in some Member States but not others.



On 27 August, protesters once again aired their critical views on the Commission's proposal ouside the European Parliament building in Brussels, predicting that the proposal will have dire effects on innovation and the livelihood of small software companies.

The European Parliament will vote on the report on the proposal in the plenary week starting 1 September.


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