The European Parliament has demanded changes to a proposal by the European Commission on patent litigation.
The Commissioner in charge, Charlie McCreevy, wants the European Union to become a signatory to the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) which, once ratified, would create a single patent court.
This, it is argued, would create more legal certainty for those involved in patent disputes in Europe, and would be a pragmatic alternative to the long delayed attempts to agree a single patent regime for the EU.
McCreevy said he hasn't given up on the 30 year-long aim to create a Community Patent, but he is pursuing the EPLA agreement as a plan B, an interim step, designed to help innovation in Europe in the absence of a Community Patent.
However, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sought "significant improvements" to that plan B, said parliamentary spokesman Federico de Girolamo. "A vast majority of MEPs called for changes, including assurances of the independence of judges and clarity on the costs of litigation," he said.
"They didn't reject the EPLA idea outright," he said, explaining that the position, which was supported by around 500 MEPs, was a compromise between the different political parties. The socialists, for example, were opposed to the EPLA idea from the start, while other large parties were more supportive of the idea, De Girolamo said.
While asking the Commission to go back and redraft the proposal, the Parliament asked them to consider alternatives, such as for the EU to join the European Patent Organisation (EPO), instead of signing up to its latest agreement. They also urged the Commission to consider reviving the Community Patent.
Supporters of open source and free software believe the EPLA is a disguised way of imposing software patents in Europe. Florian Mueller, the founder of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign that last year helped to block the passing of an EU-wide law on the patenting of computer implemented inventions said the EPLA is even more onerous than the law he helped defeat.
"It's just another attempt to give software and business method patents a stronger legal basis in Europe than they have now," he said in July at a hearing in Brussels. "From a software patents point of view, the EPLA would have far worse consequences than the rejected patentability directive would have had: not only would software patents become more enforceable in Europe but also patent holders in general would be encouraged to litigate."