The European Parliament has approved a compromise resolution on EU patent policy, but only after MEPs inserted amendments urging better democratic controls over the granting and enforcement of patents.
The resolution, passed yesterday, could have serious implications for software patents in the EU, since the European Commission is currently considering measures such as the Community Patent and the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA). Either of these could drastically increase software patent litigation in the EU by taking patent policy out of the hands of national patent bodies, according to critics.
Various parliamentary groups had already agreed on a compromise resolution that would have supported the EPLA, but with some reservations. In Thursday's vote, the EPP-ED and ALDE groups, which support the EPLA, agreed to further amendments critical of the draft EPLA in its current form.
The amendments show there's still considerable parliamentary opposition to patent liberalisation, a year after the EP threw out a proposed directive on software patents, according to anti-software-patent activists. The adopted resolution is "a far cry" from the resolution as it was first drafted, which almost unequivocally supported the EPLA, according to the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII).
"We're 80 percent happy with the result," said FFII board member Jonas Maebe in a statement. "The main unfortunate artefact left in the adopted resolution is the fact that it promotes accession of the EU to the European Patent Convention, which would delegate most patent-related responsibilities to the civil servants of the Commission and member states."
Florian Mueller, a prominent campaigner against software patents, was less optimistic. The problem is that momentum is gaining behind such measures as the EPLA, and merely registering concerns may not be enough to stop software patents from becoming broadly enforceable in the EU, he said.
"The EP is the first institution to have raised major objections concerning the draft EPLA," he said in a statement provided to Techworld. "The bad news is the EP stopped short of throwing a spanner in the EPLA works. If we don't manage to turn things around in the very near term, the tsunami may become unstoppable." He said the most important change was amendment 7, which urges the Commission to "address concerns about democratic control, judicial independence and litigation costs".
Software patents are commonly granted by the European Patent Office but are largely unenforceable due to the different regimes of member states. Proponents of reform say they aren't in favour of software patents, but simply want to make the EU patent system more efficient.
"The relatively high cost of European patents compared with their Japanese and American counterparts can be considered detrimental to the continuing success of the European patent system and to the innovation process in general," said European Patent Organisation president Alain Pompidou at an intellectual property conference in Lisbon this week.