September 21, 2006 8:13 AM PDT

Europe's software patent war ignites again

Three political groups in the European Parliament have warned that the possibility of introducing software patents is re-emerging.

Last year, the Parliament derailed a proposed directive that, critics argued, would have legitimized software patents in Europe. On Thursday the PES, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL parliamentary groups said that a measure facing a parliamentary vote on Oct. 11 or 12 could take up where the failed software patent directive left off.

Internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy plans to deliver a speech next week promoting the measure, called the European Patent Litigation Agreement.

In rebuttal, the three groups have filed a motion calling for "balance between the interests of patent holders and the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets," a representative for the groups said Thursday. The motion argues that the European Patent Litigation Agreement weakens EU democracy, compromises judicial independence, increases litigation costs and may expose small and midsize businesses "to greater risks."

The EPP-ED and ALDE parliamentary groups support the European Patent Litigation Agreement.

Patents on software are formally disallowed under the European patent system but are routinely granted by the European patent office, according to critics. They are currently difficult to enforce in many EU member states, something critics say would be changed by the failed software patent directive, and now by the European Patent Litigation Agreement.

Software patents are generally considered to add to the legal costs of large enterprises and to create a hostile legal environment for smaller software businesses and open-source projects. However, companies that already have large portfolios of software patents are under pressure to increase the value of these assets in Europe.

Proponents of the failed software patent directive and the European Patent Litigation Agreement argue that the measures will not open the door to software patent litigation and will allow smaller companies to more easily benefit from the patent system.

The European Patent Litigation Agreement is "anachronistic" and is even disliked by some large companies such as Nokia and GlaxoSmithKline, according to Parliament Member Eva Lichtenberger, a Green Party representative from Austria.

Others said the measure would effectively take the software patent issue out of the reach of the EU's democratic controls.

"We are all for improvements to the European patent system, but we must continue the search for solutions within the framework of the EU," Maria Berger, the PES's spokeswoman for legal affairs, and former French prime minister Michel Rocard, said in a statement.

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure also opposes the European Patent Litigation Agreement. On Thursday, it criticized McCreevy for failing to deliver clear answers about the measure to Parliament members.

"We have had enough of hidden agenda politics, it's time for the commissioner to deliver some facts," Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure President Pieter Hintjens said in a statement. European Patent Litigation Agreement "means higher costs for small businesses, and increased litigation risks. More U.S.-style litigation is not the solution. We just need a better patent office."

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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10 comments

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American companies destroyed by patents
Their number is legion. YEsterday, and no, this is not a joke, MS patented putting in a whitespace character and removing a whitespace character from a document. Two different patents.

Patents and IP make no sense where they disincentivize smaller companies from innovation and market participation. Capitalism is about about the free market, not offering monopoly power for every twit and twiddle and moreover, offering monopoly power for obvious things which are merely the most obvious implications of a complex system. It's as if the first to shout out the most obvious facts gets awarded patent protection and ability to legally terrorize their competition. Remember, patents WERE INTENDED AS a way of coaxing inventors into sharing their ideas by promising their ideas would be protected. Now it's about delivering to large companies who can afford to file 3000 patents a year (microsoft) and defend them (3000 * a million == 3 billion- that's billion with a Bill) a lock down on the market no matter how crappy their software and the absolute destruction of any company who tries to enter the market.

Don't let what happened to the US happen in Europe- your livlihoods, your markets and your freedom depend on YOU taking action.
Posted by asdf (241 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This assessment is crackpot
Look, who REALLY has a monopoly in the software market?

Why, Microsoft, of course.

And how has Microsoft achieved its monopoly? By STEALING ideas from all kinds of innovators, and bolting them onto its offerings. Did it need patents to get to this stage, or to maintain its monopoly? Of course not. Have you ever even heard of a case in which Microsoft has asserted its patents against a software firm? Certainly not that I've heard of.

In fact, in the US, Microsoft is doing everything it can to gut the strength of the patent system. That's why it has joined the anti-patent forces on virtually every important court case around. You guys are really best buddies on this issue. Microsoft supports software patents in Europe mainly because it know that the European patent system almost always works in favor of large companies, and has no history of protecting the small inventor, unlike the US patent system.

How do you fight the theft of ideas that has made Microsoft what it is? ONLY by fighting a monopoly with a monopoly. Using patents, genuine innovators can establish their rights to an important market, so that Microsoft cannot steal it away from them.

What do you offer that innovator in terms of protection? NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

I'm sure Microsoft just LOVES people like you. You're fighting their fight for them.
Posted by frankly0 (28 comments )
Link Flag
McGreevey is a living joke.
He used to be Minister for Finance in my country (Ireland) and was severely disliked by the public. Oh, oh, but if you were a big business owner or a staunch supporter of his party then you had no problem with him despite his incessant greed. I'm suprised he's in the position he's in now.

Go away, McGreevey!
Posted by Dr_Faulk (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: McGreevey is a living joke.
Sounds to me like he wants the EU to end up in the same mess we
here in the US are in. If you want s good example of how not to
issue patents look no further than our system.
Posted by protagonistic (1868 comments )
Link Flag
consider that ...
this country was founded on the principle of human rights, one of which is secured by the first ammendment to the constitution. John Adam's rational for the need to acknowledge (and thus protect) intellectual property is as valid today as it was when this nation was first formed.

that not withstanding, i wonder if i could get a patent on:
1. set a bit.
2. clear a bit.
3. detect a bit and branch.

:)
Posted by Lolo Gecko (131 comments )
Reply Link Flag
patents today
The patent system was set up to allow an inventor to benefit while allowing the invention to be disseminated and advanced.

Very different then the abuses we see today.

I don't see why you can't patent those, they are as ridiculous as every other software patent.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
Patents need more balance
Patents in general are useful if they serve a social good---making innovations public in exchange for a temporary monopoly on the implementation and use of that idea.

For example, drug companies would go broke if they had no patents because it costs billions of dollars to find a drug, develop it, test it and so on.

However, I believe the "patent anything" mentality provides no social benefit, only a monetary benefit to a small number of companies.

The fundamental question is this---where and how do we draw the line? Both extremes have no benefit to society.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here Europe, take a look at this!
But please understand, when one participates in a competition the "rules" are already established and to say that "More U.S.-style litigation is not the solution" is rather pathetic for countries that appears not to be having a significant software industry of their own; and, in the fast pace world in which companies now operate... it is either you lead, follow or drop out of the "competition" altogether.

The maturity of the software industry has allowed the following to rules and regulations to evolve; "Software Patents for Methods of Doing BusinessA Second Class Citizen No More". Please follow the attached link:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/matters/matters-0012.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/matters/matters-0012.html</a>
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
lol
Appears to not have a significant software industry?

Given that many of the major innovations in computer science were developed in Europe(including the world wide web, you might want to rethink your ignorant statement.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
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