EU in-fighting could scupper patent legislation

The European Parliament's internal market committee has selected former French prime minister Michel Rocard to formulate the...

The European Parliament's internal market committee has selected former French prime minister Michel Rocard to formulate the committee's response to the Council of Ministers' position on the software patents directive.

Rochard has been an outspoken opponent of the legislation, properly called the computer-implemented inventions directive.

MEPs already reacted angrily to the position taken by the Council of Ministers in May, which, they claimed, threw out all of the software patentability restrictions they included in the directive.

Rocard, who drew up the parliament's culture committee's report on the legislation in 2003,  a declared "supporter of free software", said at the time, "The patentability of software is likely to create a terrifying financial and legal threat, weighing down on software creators."
The appointment was welcomed by Holger Blasum of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure.

"That Michel Rocard is taking over the dossier reflects the fact that the wider economic, infrastructural and social implications for Europe are now seen more clearly. Also, in the council a learning process has begun, and it will be supported by the parliament's move," he said.
Not everyone is as pleased. Francisco Mingorance of the Business Software Alliance, in Brussels, said that as Rocard has not shown any sympathy to the directive in the past "we can only hope he will be sufficiently open to the view of persons and groups which have a different opinion".

However, Mingorance doubts that Rocard will be able to impose his views on the rest of the committee and the parliament. "At the end of the day he has to broker an agreement between the different sections of the committee," he said.

In May, the Council of Ministers adopted its position on the directive, which was widely attacked for opening the door to widespread patenting of software and ignoring the safeguards demanded by MEPs in their final report, in particular by excluding software and algorithms from the scope of the directive.

Danny Cohn-Bendit, Green MEP leader, said that the council position "makes a mockery" of the parliament's position.

The parliament will not start work on its response to the council until the end of this year or the beginning of the next. Translation delays have meant that the final text of the agreement reached in May will not be formally approved until November at the earliest.
The Greens have welcomed the delay, saying it offers an opportunity for the council to rethink its position.

Under the EU procedures, both the parliament and the council must agree the final text. However, if no consensus can be found, observers warn that the worst-case scenario will occur with individual nations introducing their own patent laws, which is likely to allow wider scope for patent restrictions to continue.

Simon Taylor writes for IDG News Service

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