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Support for Europe's software patent Directive

A who's who of the IT industry yesterday launched a campaign of support for the proposed European Directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions – better known as the controversial software patents Directive.09 Nov 2004

EICTA, which describes itself as the voice of the Information and Communications Technology and Consumer Electronics Industries in Europe, comprises 49 multinationals – including Apple, Canon, Cisco, Dell, Ericsson, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia and Philips – and 32 national associations from 24 European countries.

EICTA is not advocating that patents should be granted for software.

"This industry is united in its rejection of patenting of software," said Mark MacGann, Director General of EICTA and spokesman of the European ICT industry. "Those who depict the draft directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions as some sort of 'software patent law' are at best misinformed and at worst dishonest, malicious and disrespectful of the European democratic process."

Instead, its argument is that the Directive is extremely important for the future of innovation in Europe as it concerns two-thirds of all inventions in the European high-tech industry, says MacGann. "A complex legal issue has become emotional as a result of the sensationalized and inaccurate treatment by opponents to the legislation."

EICTA has launched a new site to explain its position, Patents4innovation.org. It says failure to adopt the current text of the legislation, agreed to by the European Council of Ministers under the Irish Presidency in May of this year, would jeopardise the work and livelihood of several hundred thousand researchers and inventors currently employed in Europe's high-tech industries, and invalidate the bulk of Europe's high-tech patent portfolio.

MacGann advised European policy makers to "reject the fallacious claims that the Directive was a backdoor mechanism to introduce patents on software in Europe."

EICTA's comments were quickly criticised by opponents of the Directive.

Joachim Jakobs, press officer for the Free Software Foundation Europe, told OUT-LAW that nobody admits to wanting software patents – but he says that the European Patent Office has already granted more than 30,000 patents "that have no technical effect because they do not deal with the forces of nature."

Jakobs also points out that the version of the Directive that EICTA wants passed fails to define "technical".

"Software patents are evil, because they monopolise ideas," said Jakobs. But he claims that avoiding them is proving difficult. He quotes Gert Kolle, the European Patent Office Director responsible for International Legal Affairs, as saying: "We have tried to define 'technicity' vainly." Jakobs notes that Kolle concluded: "Software is per se technical". With 30,000 software patents already waiting in Munich for a legal basis, Jakobs warns that the new Directive threatens unpredictable results.

"Mr MacGann should first demonstrate to the whole European Parliament and to the European companies the positive effects of this proposed directive, if there are any," continued Jakobs. He said the Commission has acknowledged a lack of evidence of benefits; whereas he cites independent economic studies, conducted in the US, that demonstrate how patents on ideas block innovation.

"Mr MacGann's reaction demonstrates that he has no scientific measure to sustain his theories," concluded Jakobs. "The European economy deserves better plans and competition, not patents on ideas."