A group of some of the world's leading IT and telecommunications companies have warned that Europe could become a "haven for plagiarism" if the European Parliament fails to agree to allow patent protection for inventions implemented by computer.
In a letter sent to members of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee this week, EICTA, the European IT and communications industry association, urges approval of the version of a proposed directive on computer-implemented inventions agreed by European Union governments in May.
EICTA's members include software firms such as Microsoft, SAP and Sun Microsystems, hardware makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel, as well as telecom companies such as Ericsson and Nokia.
The group warns that if members of Parliament (MEPs) insist on some of the amendments they requested when they were first asked their views on the directive, it would "seriously threaten research and development in Europe" and put thousands of highly skilled jobs at risk.
The parliament wanted to exclude software from the scope of patents, saying that software packages were already sufficiently protected through copyright law.
MEPs, who have joint legislative power over EU laws together with the EU member governments, will get a second chance to state their views on the proposal in January once the final text of the May agreement is officially transmitted to them.
In its letter, the EICTA said that European industry would be severely damaged and would lose out to other regions like the US and Asia if software-enabled inventions lacked patent protection. These inventions cover more than two-thirds of the existing patent portfolio.
European industry would lose market share to those that do not invest in research and development, but simply copy innovations by others, according to the group.
EICTA points out, for example, that the version of the legislation approved by the EU governments would not offer patent protection for the software underlying mobile phones, even though the devices use software for their implementation.
The group also argues that the text of the directive approved by the EU governments would allow for co-existence between software-enabled inventions and open-source software, rebutting the open-source community's criticism that the legislation would harm open-source software development.
Finally, the EICTA said that copyright protection alone is not enough to protect inventions. Copyright only protects the actual software or program code, and competitors, it said, can easily get around copyright protection of specific programs. Patents, on the other hand, would protect the "technical function and concept" provided they meet the patentability requirements.
Simon Taylor writes for IDG News Service