The day before the vote, CEC Commissioner Bolkestein had threatened
that the Commission and the Council would withdraw the directive proposal and hand the questions back to the national patent administrators on the board of the European Patent Office (EPO), should the Parliament vote for the amendments which it supported today. "It remains to be seen, whether the European Commission is committed to "harmonisation and clarification" or only to patent owner interests", says Hartmut Pilch, president of FFII. "This is now our directive too. We must help the European Parliament defend it."
"The directive text as amended by the European Parliament clearly excludes software patents. It hangs together incredibly cohesively. I think we have done something amazing this week" exclaimed James Heald, a member of the FFII/Eurolinux software patent working group, as he put together the voted amendments into a consolidated version.
"With the new provisions of article 2, a computer-implemented invention is no longer a trojan horse, but a washing machine", explains Erik Josefsson from SSLUG and FFII, who has been advising Swedish MEPs on the directive in recent weeks. That the majorities for the voted amendments had support from very different political groups - this reflects the arduous political discussion that had led to two postponements before.
However, when 78 amendments are voted in 40 minutes some glitches are bound to happen: "The recitals were not amended thouroughly. One of them still claims algorithms to be patentable when they solve a technical problem.", says Jonas Maebe, Belgian FFII representative currently working in the European Parliament. "But we have all the ingredients for a good directive. We've been able to do the rough sculpting work. Now the patching work can begin. The spirit of the European Patent Convention is 80% reaffirmed, and the Parliament is in a good position to remove the remaining inconsistencies in the second reading."
The directive will have to withstand further consultation with the Council of Ministers that is more informal and hence less public than Parliamentary Procedures. In the past, the Council of Ministers has left patent policy decisions to its "patent policy working party", which consists of patent law experts who are also sitting on the administrative council of the European Patent Office (EPO). This group has been one of the most determined promoters of unlimited patentability, including program claims, in Europe.
Says Laura Creighton, software entrepreneur and venture capitalist, who has supported the FFII/Eurolinux campaign with donations and travelled from Sweden to Brussels several times to attend conferences and meetings with MEPs:
Now those people who claimed to be opposed to having a US style mess, but only liked the bill because it permitted such things, will have to expose themselves. I predict a good number of them will claim that we must not pass this one, because we need a bill that makes us more similar to the US and Japan for the sake of not angering our trading partners.
Now is the time to ask European politicians to show courage, and world leadership and vote up the directive that the American citizens, government, SMEs and Alan Greenspan wish they had instead of the current mess. Ask them to harmonise with Europe. The members of the European Parliament deserve thanks for their efforts in understanding the social consequences of this admittedly difficult technical decision. This has not happened anywhere else in the world so far. We Europeans can be proud of this political achievement, and I hope our politicians share this pride.
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) is a non-profit association registered in Munich, which is dedicated to the spread of data processing literacy. FFII supports the development of public information goods based on copyright, free competition, open standards. More than 300 members, 700 companies and 50,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions in the area of exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing.
The EuroLinux Alliance for a Free Information Infrastructure is an open coalition of commercial companies and non-profit associations united to promote and protect a vigourous European Software Culture based on copyright, open standards, open competition and open source software such as Linux. Corporate members or sponsors of EuroLinux develop or sell software under free, semi-free and non-free licenses for operating systems such as GNU/Linux, MacOS or MS Windows.