The controversial European software patent directive will not make it to the next step on its long legislative process this year. Increasing political pressure has caused the Council to delay its vote until 2005.
Marc Verwilghen, the Belgian minister of economics and energy, told his country's Parliament that the relevant directive would not be voted on by the Council of the European Union before the end of the year "for the reason that the qualified majority no longer exists". (Read his speech here [pdf].)
The legislative arms of the EU, the Council of the European Union - or Council of Ministers - and the European Parliament have been wrangling over differing versions of the directive, which was first submitted by the EU's executive body, the European Commission, in February 2002.
After intense lobbying, the Parliament added amendments that barred the patenting of software. However, in May, the Council of Ministers, whose members are politicians from EU member states' national governments, narrowly passed its own version of the directive that re-introduced software patenting. That version of the directive is now awaiting final approval from the Council before the proposed legislation goes back to the European Parliament for a second reading.
Representatives from the Council had contended that the final vote was being held up due to the work required for putting the text into all of the EU member languages. But last month, the future of the directive was thrown into doubt after the Polish government indicated it could no longer support the legislation in its current form.
A reversal of the Council's decision in May could derail the process by sending it back to the Commission or back into a working group.
The Commission declined to specify when the Council vote is now expected to take place. "We are expecting the political agreement reached on 18 May to be approved at a forthcoming Council. We've not been told that any member state has changed its position," a Commission spokeswoman said.
A representative of the Council's rotating Presidency, now held by the Netherlands, said that the May agreement was still on track to be adopted at a Council meeting. The representative said Poland has not notified the Presidency about a change of position.
Sources close to the situation in Brussels say that pressure is being put on the Poles to not change their original position.
Currently, different European national courts have been interpreting patent laws in a variety of conflicting ways. Should the EU fail in its attempts to establish an overarching patent standard for computer-related inventions, including but not limited to software, the confusion over technology patents in Europe will only deepen, according to trade groups such as the European IT and communications industry association.