Software patents directive likely to fail

I’ve been following this really as an outsider, not really understanding the issues at all, but basically realising that people who I generally like for other reasons opposed the directive, and the people who supported it tended to be those who I am naturally suspicious of. So I can manage at least one cheer for the likely result tomorrow.

If your French is better than mine (not difficult) and you are interested in the topic I’d be very grateful if you could post a quick translation of the relevant bits as a comment.

SPLIT EU PARLIAMENT SET TO KILL SOFTWARE PATENTS DIRECTIVE Le Parlement européen s’apprête à enterrer la directive très controversée relative à la brevetabilité des logiciels, en votant mercredi en seconde lecture contre le texte soutenu par les Etats membres et la Commission. Première force de l’assemblée, les conservateurs du PPE ont décidé mardi soir de changer de position et de soutenir une proposition de rejet du texte, qui sera également votée par les socialistes, les Verts et une partie des démocrates et libéraux, mais pour des raisons totalement différentes. Divisé sur cette question très complexe, le PPE craint que des amendements défavorables aux grands industriels, et visant à réduire le champ de ce qui est brevetable, puissent atteindre la majorité absolue de 367 voix. “Ces amendements auraient des conséquences catastrophiques pour le développement industriel de l’Europe”, a estimé le conservateur allemand Klaus-Heiner Lehne. Les écologistes redoutent au contraire de ne pas avoir la majorité nécessaire sur les amendements proposés par le rapporteur, le socialiste français Michel Rocard. “C’est mieux de ne pas avoir de texte que d’en avoir un mauvais”, a estimé de son côté Rocard, qui jugeait “peu probable” une majorité sur ses amendements.

COMMISSION WON’T MAKE NEW PROPOSAL Le rejet du texte par le Parlement mercredi serait un camouflet pour la Commission et le Conseil qui n’avaient pas tenu compte de la première lecture du Parlement restreignant le champ d’application de la directive. Le commissaire Joaquin Almunia a fait savoir mardi que Bruxelles ne ferait pas de nouvelle proposition si le rejet était voté.

DRAFT WAS GOOD ENOUGH, SAYS ALMUNIA Several MEPs called for the Commission to revisit the drawing board and come back with a fresh draft. However, the Brussels executive rejected drafting a new proposal and Joaquin Almunia warned that allowing the bill to fail would hurt the EU aim of increasing the 25-nation bloc’s economic competitiveness. “The Commission believes that the common position meets the requirements of introducing predictable framework that promotes and rewards innovation,” Almunia told lawmakers.

ALL GROUPS TO VOTE AGAINST The two biggest groups in the parliament _the conservative European People’s Party and the Socialists_ decided late Tuesday to reject the bill. «We’ll vote against on Wednesday,» European People’s Party spokesman Robert Fitzhenry said. Some 178 amendments to the bill have been tabled by parliamentarians ahead of the vote. The Green Party alone has tabled 21 amendments in a last-ditch effort to dilute the legislation. Their amendments would limit the scope of the bill to include only «technical contributions,» meaning any pure software code cannot be patented. “The EPP party meeting has just voted to reject the common position tomorrow morning,” said Fitzhenry. Tony Robinson, spokesman for the PSE, said the group will also be voting to scrap the bill. The two groups combined have 468 deputies, easily passing the threshold needed to kill legislation in the 732-member assembly. Earlier in the day, the smaller ALDE liberal group, with 89 members, said it would also vote to reject the bill. A version of the bill agreed by the 25 member states of the EU left the assembly members divided and unable to muster the qualified majorities needed to amend it. “The rejection is the fallback option that everybody can understand in political terms and does not run the risk of the bill turning into a dog’s breakfast (a mess),” said liberal group spokesman Neil Corlett, a view echoed by others. If the bill is not amended or killed, the member-state version would become law. “Since it is not sure that we can get a really good directive, then I would rather have no directive at all than one which could be misused to legitimise too much patenting,” said Eva Lichtenberger, a member of the Green party. The Greens and their allies in the assembly number 42. Lichtenberger hoped the debate will now turn to the possibility of an EU-based patent. Europe-wide patenting is currently handled by the European Patent Office with no recourse to a single court, forcing firms to defend them in each country -a costly exercise.

LONG BATTLE Depuis 2001, partisans et opposants à l’idée du brevet logiciel bataillent vigoureusement afin d’orienter le débat en leur faveur. Des deux côtés, on demande “plus de clarté” car s’il existe depuis 1973 un office européen des brevets (OEB) à Munich, 25 régimes continuent à coexister dans l’UE avec des interprétations différentes par les justices nationales, d’où la proposition d’harmonisation présentée par Bruxelles. Le projet de directive prévoit que “les inventions mises en oeuvre par ordinateur” -de la machine à laver au téléphone portable- puissent être protégées par des brevets. Selon la position commune atteinte avec beaucoup de difficulté par les 25 Etats membres en mars, les brevets pour les logiciels “purs” sont expressément exclus mais demeurent envisageables si le logiciel est nécessaire au fonctionnement de l’invention. Dans cette logique, un système de freinage ABS serait brevetable, tout comme le logiciel à l’origine de cette invention, une pratique déjà appliquée dans les faits par l’OEB.

INDUSTRY SPLIT TOO Les grands industriels comme Siemens, Nokia ou Alcatel, regroupés au sein de l’

A VICTORY FOR LOBBYISTS «A strong lobby campaign has caused many MEPs to shift position and resulted in a flood of technical amendments that threatens to swamp the directive,» said Toine Manders, a Liberal Democrat. «There could be chaos in Strasbourg,» he said. «Some amendments might be adopted and others not. If the final result does not bring the desired legal clarity, Parliament risks creating a gold mine for patent lawyers and a nightmare for businesses. It would be better to have no legislation at all than bad legislation.»

BIG COMPANIES PUSHED HARD Big companies such as Nokia Corp. and Siemens AG have fought hard for adoption of the bill, saying they need to invest in research and development. Open source advocates have campaigned against it, saying that individuals and small businesses could be bankrupted by expensive legal battles with software giants over fuzzy patent law. «We’d miss a golden opportunity if the bill got rejected,» said Marc MacGann, director general of EICTA, a group representing 10,000 companies including Nokia and Alcatel SA. «Currently there are 25 ways of interpreting patent. This law would bring harmonization and simplify things.» About a hundred demonstrators protesting the proposed law gathered outside parliament before the debate. Clad in yellow vests with a «No to software patents» logo and holding banners saying «Software patents kill innovation» and «U.S. patents go out,» they stopped cars with deputies outside the parliament entrance, urging them to vote against bill. The bill stops short of the U.S. system that allows patenting of business methods or computer programs such as Amazon.com Inc.’s «one-click» shopping technique, which gives consumers a quick system to buy goods on its Web site.

SOCIALISTS SEE REJECTION AS PRESSURE ON EUROPEAN PATENT OFFICE “Mieux vaut n’avoir aucune directive qu’avoir une mauvaise directive”, avait résumé mardi après-midi Michel Rocard, rapporteur dans ce dossier et auteur des amendements socialistes. Lesdits amendements, qui ont été rejetés le mois dernier par la commission juridique, limitent clairement le brevetage aux “inventions assistées par ordinateur”, à l’exclusion des “programmes d’ordinateur”. En commission, les eurodéputés ont préféré une formulation plus floue, qui, selon Rocard, “encouragera l’office européen des brevets (OEB) dans ses dérives”. “Si la plénière valide la position de la commission juridique, la zone grise s’étendra”, a affirmé l’ancien Premier ministre, en référence aux inventions auxquelles l’OEB a accordé abusivement une protection. Par contre, “si le Parlement rejette la directive, il exercera une pression contre l’extension de la jurisprudence de l’OEB à des brevets illégitimes”.

Edited to add: Hah, I see the BBC is now reporting the vote.

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1 Response to Software patents directive likely to fail

  1. altariel says:

    Very nice piece.

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