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Software patents would hurt Europe, says study

A study commissioned by the German Ministry of Economics and Technology has recommended that software patents, which are legal in the US, should not be allowed in Europe.

The experts warned that a high rate of innovation and interoperability; and the continued development of the open-source model would be jeopardised if Europe adopts a rule allowing the widespread patenting of computer programs.

European Commission officials are expected to unveil a draft law harmonising software patent regulations within the European Union, which remain a patchwork of different rules among the 15 member states. Current regulations forbid the patenting of software on a European level - a position fiercely defended by activists on the continent.

The German experts - from the renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Patent, Copyright and Competition Law - surveyed 263 German companies and individual developers in the software area, and compared patent laws in Europe, the US and Japan.

Even under the more restrictive European patent practice, the study's authors called for reforms that increase the efficiency of the patent process and lower costs for small and medium-sized enterprises. Many of these companies have complained that the cost of registering patents gives large corporations an unfair advantage.

However, the researchers called for the rapid harmonisation of patent law on the European Union level, "even, if possible, at the level of the World Trade Organisation".

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