European Parliament limits software patents
The European Parliament yesterday drastically altered the proposed
directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions. A long
summer of intensive lobbying by an impressive European alliance of open
source advocates, economists and CEOs of small and medium-sized businesses
has paid off.
One of the great fears about software patents, the extension to business
methods like Amazon’s one-click shopping, is effectively answered by the
new Recital 13a. This states: “A computer-implemented business method,
data processing method or other method in which the only contribution to
the state of the art is non-technical cannot constitute a patentable
In itself, software is excluded from patentability. So are any forms of
information processing, handling and presentation. According to Recital
13d, only computer-implemented inventions that directly affect
programmable apparatus can be patented, for example software applied in
washing machines and mobile phones.
Another important victory for the broad alliance against software patents
is the new Article 2b, which requires inventions to make a technical
contribution, be new, non-obvious, and capable of industrial application.
And the amended article 4 forbids the use of non-technical characteristics
to judge if there is a technical contribution, a practice that had allowed
the European Patent Office to decree that anything was technically
innovative. Last but not least, interoperability is excepted from possible
The final vote showed 361 votes in favour, 157 against and 28 abstentions
on the legislative resolution. The Green Party and GUE voted against the
directive, in spite of succeeding in getting many amendments accepted.
According to FFII, the day before the vote the responsible Commissioner
Frits Bolkestein had threatened that the Commission and the Council would
withdraw the directive proposal should the Parliament vote for the
amendments that it supported today.
“It remains to be seen whether the European Commission is committed to
‘harmonisation and clarification’ or only to patent owner interests”, said
Hartmut Pilch, president of FFII. “This is now our directive too. We must
help the European Parliament defend it.”
FFII Press release
Consolidated version of the vote (24.09.2003)