SYS-CON UK Authors: Salvatore Genovese, Jeremy Geelan, Jamie Matusow


SYS-CON UK: Article

Euro-Patent Bill Fails

"Triumph" for OSS Claimed

The European Parliament has voted by a huge 648-18 margin to reject legislation proposed by the European Commission to harmonize software patents throughout the European Union. Seen as nefarious by open-source software proponents and stoked as well by fears of U.S. technology companies' ability to appropriate software ideas, the vote followed emotional debate and street protests in Strasbourg, France, where the EP is located.

The 25 countries of the EU will continue to follow their own individual courses when it comes to software patents, thereby making it more difficult for large companies to follow the types of behavior that works in the U.S. such as clustering patents around a single idea, picket-fencing patents around someone else's idea, or filing so-called submarine patents that can later torpedo the competition.

The legislation's failure is alleged to benefit open-source software developers, who offer their code for free and do not believe that any single company should own specific software code or ideas. The decision to torpedo the legislation puts the issue to rest for the forseeable future, as the European Commission has said it won't revive it.

The legislation, although controversial, seemed to be on its way to passage until very recently. Proposals to amend it with a long list of changes proved to be unpopular, leading to former proponents voting against it rather than approve a severely amended version.

Microsoft, which is often seen by open-source propronents as the embodiment of a predatory, proprietary software company, and which is also at an impasse with respect to how it will conduct business within the EU, represents an unspoken back story to the legislation's failure. Although no one has gone on record decrying this company specifically, it also seems apparent that the Redmont giant represents the U.S. in general as an entity to be feared in the area of software development.

Software patent legislation is also related to the concept of intellectual property when it comes to software. Large companies wish to see tangible returns on their investments and seek protection of their code and their concepts. Amazon.com's famous patenting of its one-click shopping process is a notable example of how far protection extends in the U.s. of what a corporation claims is its intellectual property.

Regions that are weak in intellectual property protection receive much less interest from large companies, whether in the area of entertainment or software. The European Parliament decision will likely make the EU as a whole less attractive to large companies, which is of course the point of the rejection.

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Most Recent Comments
Damien Mulligan 07/22/05 01:17:58 PM EDT

I think it is inaccurate to imply at the end of the article that the vote against the patent was intended to make the EU less attractive to large companies, it was to avoid the situation that companies could claim ownership of mindshare for something that vaguely resembled a patent they had already obtained.

tomte 07/15/05 04:36:48 AM EDT

What you umpudently call a "legislation's failure" is the only chance to survive fat companies just claiming any trivial ideas as US-patents. See the alarming example on http://webshop.ffii.org/ showing 20 so called patents each webshop must infringe upon to survive. tomte.

LinuxWorld News Desk 07/06/05 10:00:02 AM EDT

The years-long debate over a harmonized technology patenting process throughout the European Union may be over, with the bill failing by an overwhelming margin. Touted as a 'triumph' by open-source software proponents, does it also represent a continuing rupture in the fabric of a Europe that must unite to compete effectively with North America and Asia in the future?