The European Commission has no plans to withdraw a controversial proposal on the patents for computer-implemented inventions, Commissioner for the Information Society Viviane Reding said yesterday.

"The Commission is sticking to its proposal as it will create a level playing field for technical inventions in Europe's software industry," she announced alongside a five-year strategy for increasing the EU's competitiveness in the IT sector.

The EC presented a proposal in 2002 for a directive on computer-implemented inventions, designed to give patent protection to inventors of products that depend on computer technology, such as mobile phones and domestic appliances. The proposal has been dubbed the "software patents" directive by opponents in the open-source software community who argue that it would open the door to patenting of pure software, stifling innovation by small developers who would not be able to afford the licenses needed to build on freely available code.

Some companies argue the legislation is vital for the future of IT innovation in the EU. Nokia, Philips and Ericsson have all stated that without patent protection European companies will shift their research and development spending to parts of the world with tougher intellectual property protection rules.

But on the flipside, open-source software developers like Red Hat and MySQL have argued that they will be shut out of the market by a heavy regime of patent protection. Sun is also concerned that the directive should not be so strict in its definition of patent protection that it prevents inter-operability.

Members of the directly elected European Parliament, which has joint decision-making powers over this legislation, have led a three-year long battle to ensure that the directive does not apply to computer programs, but only to technical inventions that are operated using computer technology.

Currently, the Parliament is drafting a new version of the directive that would forbid patenting of computer programs. A report, currently being drafted by former French prime minister Michel Rocard, is due to be voted on on 20 June. But representatives of the European IT industry argue that the Parliament's definition of what can be patented is too restrictive and would not give new inventions the patent protection they require to justify R&D spending.

Mark McGann, director general of the European Information and Communications Technology Industries Association (EICTA), said that of the changes proposed by members of Parliament "88 percent" are unacceptable, warning that the text the Parliament advocates would rule out patent protection in the field of data processing.

EU member states, represented in the Council of Ministers, are expected to block the changes demanded by Parliament as they did when the legislation was first discussed in 2003-2004, forcing the two sides to enter into conciliation.

While stating that no decision has yet been taken on whether to pull the proposal, Commissioner Reding said that the Commission will watch the debate in the Parliament very closely. She pledged that she and her colleagues will ensure that the "need for innovation and inter-operability" will guide the drafting of the final text of the directive. "IT companies will not be left behind," she said.