Europeans To Vote On Software Patents

A Wednesday session of the European Parliament will vote on 60 amendments, beginning a long and drawn out process to determine the status of software patents

W. David Gardner, Contributor

July 5, 2005

2 Min Read

Demonstrators from across Europe are converging on Strasbourg, Germany to influence a European Parliament vote, in what's likely to be a long and drawn out process to determine the status of software patents.

The vote will take place Wednesday, but most observers expect the debate to continue for months. The vote isn't expected to be a straight up or down affair, as some 60 amendments are expected to come to the floor.

There are three likely scenarios, explained Florian Mueller, campaign manager of They are: an absolute majority vote could end the effort to abolish or reduce software patents, amendments by parliament would insure that the process continues through various EU bodies, or a failure to make amendments by parliament could mean the present software patent process could become law.

Mueller said the overall goal of his organization, which has heavy representation from open source backers, is to eliminate software patents. "But I'm not against patents on technical inventions in a field of natural science even if software is part of that," he said.

On the opposing side are some large firms with hefty patent portfolios; they favor software patents and want little change in the existing European patent laws. Although Microsoft isn't front and center in the debate, the whole issue of software patents revolves to a large extent around the software colossus and its growing patent portfolio.

However, some big firms, while in favor of software patents, take issue with some of the amendments coming up for a vote. In a letter to European political leaders, the CEOs of Alcatel, Ericsson, Nokia, Philips and Siemens are warning that some of the proposed changes could hurt employment and lead to lower investments in research and development.

One demonstrator said he wanted Europe to go its own way on software patents. "The prospect of U.S.-style software patents being implemented in Europe seems to be a very dangerous and retrograde step for any small to medium sized software company," said Toby Churchill, CEO of a U.K.-based software firm, in a statement. "In very nearly all cases, copyright seems to be sufficient IP protection."

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