Draft EU directive on software patents withdrawn
European Parliament rapporteur Arlene McCarthy has withdrawn the draft directive on software patents. The directive will now go back to the committee stage for some more work. A new vote is scheduled for the plenary sessions between 22 and 25 September.
Even though officially the European Patent Office does not allow for patents on software, many trifle software inventions and business methods have already been accepted. For example, on 26 August 2002 Nippon Electric filed a patent-request for webshops with customer log-in functionality.
Many internet-users, programmers, economists and owners of small and medium sized companies, united in the Eurolinux Alliance and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) fear that the Directive will legalise this practice, with a stifling effect on innovation.
In response to the loud public outcry with open letters to parliament from businesses and scientists, a demonstration, and a petition signed by more than 240.000 people, McCarthy published a factsheet about the draft. In the factsheet she explains that she has been the victim of a "misinformation campaign" and is in reality championing the protesters' cause. She denies the directive will enable U.S. style unlimited patentability of algorithms and business methods such as Amazon's 'one-click' shopping. "In fact the Parliament's objective is to stop the drift by the EPO and national patent offices to patent business methods. The Parliament's proposal is stronger than current law and practice of the EPO and is explicitly excluding the patentability of business methods and algorithms with the introduction of a new article and recitals, specifically Article 4a and recitals 13a and 13c."
The FFII however states that 'one click' shopping would be patentable without any doubt under the final terms of McCarthy's Legal Affairs Committee. The controversy centres around the explanation of the word 'technical'. According to FFII any business method can be patented, as long as it is presented as a solution to a technical problem.
To underline the fact that Europeans can expect a plethora of trivial patents on business methods, on 1 September the German Linux community LIVE, together with the anti-globalisation group ATTAC, filed a patent on petitions on websites.
Arlene McCarthy factsheet (01.09.2003)
FFII analysis and criticism of factsheet (02.09.2003)
Nippon Electric patent on webshops (filed 26.08.2002, published 03.05.2003)
German users file patent on web petitions (31.08.2003)