European Parliament Rejects Software Patents

The European Parliament voted overwhelming, 648-14 with 18 abstentions, against a proposed software patent directive Wednesday.

The Computer-Implemented Inventions (CII) patents directive, if passed, would have given software patent owners unified protections across the European Union (EU). The EU floated the proposal to the parliamentary body in May 2004 to bring patent laws in line with patent law in the U.S.

Proponents of the measure said that without the directive in place, computerized inventions will still be granted by member nation offices and the European Patent Office, but with no unified standards or rules.

Michel Rocard, a member of the European Parliament, has been an opponent of the proposed initiative, saying software on its own is immaterial and shouldn’t be considered a technical innovation.

“Things have gone off the rails when the European Patent Office calls that technical,” he said. “We now have patents granted on teaching methods, sales methods and surgical guides.”

Officials at the EU don’t have any plans to re-introduce a new software patent proposal in the future. Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for the EU internal market and services, said it’s a position that’s consistent with previous statements by European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

“He already stated in the plenary on March 8 that it was necessary that the parliament should express itself in clear terms on this matter; this is what happened today,” he said. “The commission respects the parliament’s wishes; there will be no new proposals coming from the commission in this area.”

Mark McGann, director general of high-tech industry body European Information & Communications Technology Industry Association, welcomed the decision and said it preserves the status quo in the EU.

“This is a wise decision that has helped industry to avoid legislation that could have narrowed the scope of patent legislation in Europe,” he said in a statement.

Open source software developers and vendors argue that copyright law is adequate in ensuring innovation; the introduction of CII patents, however, would have the potential to stifle software innovation.

In a letter to the European Parliament in October 2004, Linus Torvalds, Linux kernel creator, Michael Widenius, MySQL author, and Rasmus Lerdorf, a PHP programmer, said copyrights serve software authors but patents potentially deprive them of their own creations.

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