The Foundation for a Free Information Structure (FFII), a lobbying group with wide support from European open-source community advocates, has reversed its position concerning a software patent bill after the European Parliament handed a surprise victory to the opponents of software patents last week.
The FFII led a campaign to try to persuade members of the European Parliament to scrap a proposal for a European Union-wide law, officially called the directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions.
However, the text agreed in the parliament on Wednesday is so different from the original document written by the European Commission, that the FFII will now lobby to keep it.
Advocates of open-source software applauded the Parliament's move.
"We got everything we want," said Laura Creighton, co-founder of Swedish groupware developer Strakt, and of a British publishing software firm called Reportlab.
Creighton has also lobbied alongside the FFII. People who fought hard to scrap the law will now fight just as hard to keep it in the shape the European Parliament proposed, she said. "We are overjoyed with the courage of the European Parliament. By changing the text so much they have shown true leadership."
The European Commission, as well as the Council of Ministers, the EU's assembly of national government ministers, are likely to try to get some or all of the parliament's changes to the bill reversed.
"There will probably need to be some work to be done to reconcile the parliament and the ministers' positions," said one EU diplomat.
But he added that the differences of view could be overcome. "We are all agreed that Europe should not be allowed to register the sort of patents you find in the US. Everyone agrees on that. Everyone wants this directive because the status quo is far from perfect. It isn't impossible to reach agreement here," he said.
The existing patent regime in Europe, under the authority of the European Patent Office in Munich, outlaws patents for pure software.
However, some patents have sneaked through, prompting many critics to speculate that if left as they are, the EU's patent laws will result in Europe drifting towards the US, which permits patents for some software applications.
Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said the commission's original version of the bill is a "good middle ground between the opposing arguments". He added that the commission will examine the parliament's amendments carefully.
Parliament and the council must both sign up to the wording of a bill before it can be passed. If they fail to agree, the commission steps in and hosts conciliation meetings and the three institutions try to reach agreement.
Once the two houses do agree and the directive is adopted, then the 15 EU member states have around 18 months to write the directive into their national statute books.
Paul Meller writes for IDG News Service