A group of some of the world's leading IT and telecommunications companies have warned that Europe could become a "haven for plagiarism" if the European Parliament fails to agree to allow patent protection for software.
In a letter sent to members of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee this week, EICTA, the European IT and communications industry association, urged approval of the directive produced by EU governments in May.
That directive rejected a host of changes made during the Parliament's first review of the legislation. It is now on its way back to the Parliament a second time.
EICTA's members include Microsoft, SAP, Sun, HP, Intel, Ericsson and Nokia. EICTA also weighed in on the controversial debate this time last year, when its action delayed a crucial vote on the future of the patent law changes.
The group warns that if members of Parliament (MEPs) insist on some of the amendments they initially introduced, it would "seriously threaten research and development in Europe" and put thousands of highly skilled jobs at risk. The Parliament chose to exclude software from the scope of patents, saying that software packages were already sufficiently protected through copyright law.
MEPs, who have joint legislative power over EU laws with the member governments, will get a second chance to state their views in January once the final text of the May agreement is officially transmitted to them.
In its letter, EICTA says that European industry would be severely damaged and would lose out to other regions like the US and Asia if software-enabled inventions lacked patent protection. These inventions cover more than two-thirds of the existing patent portfolio, EICTA says. European industry would lose market share to those that do not invest in research and development, but simply copy innovations by others, according to the group.
EICTA points out, for example, that the version of the legislation approved by the EU governments would not offer patent protection for the software underlying mobile phones, even though the devices use software for their implementation.
The group also argues that the latest text of the directive would allow for co-existence between software-enabled inventions and open-source software, rebutting the open-source community's criticism that the legislation would harm open-source software development.
Finally, EICTA says that copyright protection alone is not enough to protect inventions. Copyright only protects the actual software or program code, and competitors, EICTA says, can easily get around copyright protection of specific programs. Patents, on the other hand, would protect the "technical function and concept" provided they meet the patentability requirements, the group says.
There is no shortage of people who hold the opposite views to EICTA, and the organisation's arguments aren't helped by the fact that it stands to gain significantly if the law is passed as is. On top of this, the reality of the situation in the US where software patents are creating a legal quagmire is undermining many of the argument put forward by pro-patent groups.