EU postpones software patent law review

A proposed Europe-wide law on software patents has been knocked off the agenda of this week's plenary meeting of European...

A proposed Europe-wide law on software patents has been knocked off the agenda of a meeting between European parliamentarians and will not be debated by the full assembly until September.

The proposed law has sparked fierce controversy in the computer industry, with large firms pressing European lawmakers to extend the reach of the law, and open source and free software supporters calling for all patents to be outlawed.

The Legal Affairs Committee, which is leading the debate, has selected amendments to a text prepared by the Union's executive body, the European Commission, which steer a course between these two irreconcilable interest groups.

It hoped to table the proposed directive at this week's meeting in Strasbourg, rather than have to wait until after the summer.

However, a European Parliament source said that the controversy surrounding the dossier prompted parliament planners to leave the debate and the vote on the proposed law until September.

"The range of views on this subject is too wide still," she said, adding, "It was felt that a delay until September would allow parliamentarians more time to understand the complex issues involved, and might result in a narrowing of the opinions."

Large firms that already own libraries of patents want the EU to follow the route the US has taken, by allowing so-called business methods to be patented. They also want to be able to protect standalone software packages that have no direct link with an external machine or device.

The commission, the legal affairs committee of the parliament and national governments from the 15 EU member states want to restrict patentability to genuine inventions which use software to deliver their benefits to customers.

Open source and free software supporters fear that even this muted form of software patentability would, in the end, pull Europe in the direction of the US and Japan, where patents are granted for business methods such as the one-click online shopping tool first used by Amazon.com.

Paul Meller writes for IDG News Service

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