European Parliament tackles software patent divisions

Euro MPs next week will try and overcome deep divisions about a proposed directive on software patents.

Euro MPs next week will try and overcome deep divisions about a proposed directive on software patents.

The European Parliament's legal affairs committee, which is leading the debate on the proposed law within the Parliament, will meet on Monday (12 May) to discuss the controversial draft directive.

There are deeply divergent views on the planned law, both within the Parliament and among lobbyists. The open source and free software supporters are pitted against advocates for copyright holders in the battle to influence the shape of the planned law.

The proposed law was drafted by the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, early last year.

It would allow patents only for software applications of a technical nature, and it would not permit patents on business methods. The US and Japan allow patents on a much wider range of software, and both permit patents for business methods.

Business methods include innovations such as one-click purchasing, for which the online retailer Amazon.com received a patent in the US in 1999.

Amazon used the patent to get an injunction against use of a similar purchasing feature by rival Barnesandnoble.com, but an appeals court lifted that injunction last year.

An official at the European Commission said its proposal "strikes a very fine balance" between the hugely divergent views on the subject, and warned that if the European Parliament upset that balance, the commission might withdraw the proposed law.

"The commission has taken account of the differing views on this subject in its proposal, and it would be very unhappy if the Parliament tabled amendments that tilted the proposed directive in either direction," the official said.

Lobbyists on both sides of the debate feel short-changed by the commission's proposal, and are intensifying efforts to steer the European Parliament towards their views ahead of the first plenary session in June.

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