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January 16, 2006

European patent policy back on the IT agenda

The European patent system is back on the IT agenda for 2006 after the European Commission launched a consultation on future patent policy, six months after the European Parliament rejected the EC's controversial technology patents directive.

By CBR Staff Writer

Internal market and services commissioner Charlie McCreevy announced the plan to seek views on how to improve the patent system in Europe and push forward the long-delayed Community Patent initiative, prompting anti-software patent campaigners to raise the alert. McCreevy said the Community Patent remains central to our policy and also invited businesses and individuals alike to enter into a debate on ways to improve the current patent system in Europe, and explore possible areas for harmonization across the EU.

The Community Patent plan to create a single European patent system has been debated since the 1970s but stalled in 2004 as the Competitive Council failed to agree on the details. It has been expected to return to the political agenda since July 2005 when the European Parliament voted unanimously to reject the directive on the patentability of computer-implemented interventions, CII.

The CII directive was designed to standardize technology patent laws across the European Union but divided technology vendors, business users and politicians alike, prompting a long and often bitter debate about whether it contained a loophole allowing widespread software patents.

The broader Community Patent project is designed to reduce the number of languages required for an application and decrease applications costs, thereby increasing the competitiveness of the European patent system against the US.

However, anti-software patent campaigner, Florian Mueller, has warned that it could allow software patents by the back door if current European Patent Office case law is applied. Defining what is patentable would be needed to really make Europe more competitive, he said. Mueller has called on supporters of the anti-software patent movement to ensure that their voice is heard and that a waterproof exclusion of software from patentability be agreed before the Community Patent is adopted.

Vendors and entrepreneurs on all sides of the debate will have the chance to make their feelings known during the consultation period, which will end on March 31, to be followed by a hearing, which the Commission said it intends to hold in Brussels on June 13.

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