Euro Group Rejects Restrictions On Software Patents

The long-delayed legislation, which allows for patents held throughout the European Union, is seen as a boon for high-tech companies.
Several of the changes proposed by Michel Rocard, the bill's rapporteur, were retained. But committee members rejected most of the proposed amendments that would have made it more difficult to win patent protection for software-related inventions.

The vote still has to be confirmed by the full European Parliament within two weeks, although members generally abide by the decisions of its specialist committees.

Of the amendments approved, some have symbolic value, such as defining "technology" as "applied natural science" and renaming a "computer-implemented invention" as a "computer-aided invention."

The pan-European IT trade body EICTA welcomed the move. Eicta President Mark MacGann told the Financial Times: "European industry is satisfied with the outcome of [the June 20] vote. We will now urge the entire parliament to follow suit. It is a pretty good result."

Eicta members include Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Philips, Siemens, SAP and Sony. Large companies with large patent portfolios outside Europe feared that a more restrictive regime would remove patent protection from possibly tens of thousands of existing inventions.

However, some smaller software suppliers and individual developers have argued that patents hurt them by concentrating patents in the hands of a few well-heeled companies. Opponents also worry that the new directive might allow patents on "pure' software" such as simple lines of code.

The smaller groups argued that European software patents could stifle innovation by preventing developers from building on widely used software code to create new applications.

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