EP vote on software patents delayed

By EDRi · May 21, 2003

The vote in the European Parliament on a new EU Directive on Patent Law will most likely be delayed until the end of June. Originally, parliament was supposed to have voted in plenary this week. The delay is due to the immense differences in opinion between large software companies like Microsoft and IBM on the one hand and small and medium enterprises, (open source) programmers and civil rights activists on the other hand. A hearing, organised by members of the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament on 8 May, showed massive resistance from programmers and open source developers against the creation of a European patent on software. Guest speaker Richard Stallman, one of the founding fathers of the open source movement, compared the patenting of computer algorithms with the patenting of musical notes, warning about a situation where composers can no longer write symphonies. He also cited a recent Harvard/MIT study about the negative impact on innovation that software patents have had on the American economy.

The proposal for a new directive on software patents was pre-discussed in 3 parliamentary committees, of which JURI (on legal affairs) was leading. While the 2 other committees (ITRE on industrial affairs and CULT on cultural affairs) opposed the patenting of software, JURI, lead by rapporteur Arlene McCarthy, was in favour of extensive patents on software. JURI is now expected to take their final vote on 10 or 17 June.

Hearing on Software Patents – speakers and presentations (08.05.2003)

Sequential Innovation, Patents and Imitation, by James Bessen and Eric Maskin, Harvard University and MIT

Commission proposal COM(2002) 92 – 2002/0047

EP – JURI draft report by Arlene McCarthy