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Software Patents in Europe

[Introduction | Background | Status | Further Reading]

Current Status

The European Commission's original proposal for the directive was heavily criticised for allowing unlimited patenting of software, calcuation rules and business processes, while making the claim of not doing so.

September 24, 2003: The European Parliament, the only body in the European Union that is elected directly by its citizens, had to decide on the commission's proposal. Giving the needs of European citizens and industry preference, the Parliament passed the directive after limiting the scope of patentability to exclude pure, abstract software without a technical context.
This decision was regarded a victory for democracy and a step towards a more transparent and participatory European Union by many.

May 18, 2004: The council of the European Union, a body representing the Ministers of its member states, rejected the parliament's version. Instead it agreed upon a new proposal of the commission that was in effect identical to the original proposal, in some respects even worse. Formal adoption of that proposal was delayed, however.

December 21, 2004: The directive was put on the agenda of the EU Council on Agriculture and Fishery to be approved as a so-called "A-item" without further discussion.
Paying an unexpected visit, Poland's Vice Minister of Science, Wodzimierz Marcinski, vetoed this item at the beginning of the meeting, so it was taken off the agenda. Poland received much well-deserved applause for this act in defense of democracy and prevented serious harm to European economy.

March 7th, 2005: Was a black day for European democracy, citizens and economy. With remarkable disregard for democracy, the EU Presidency forced the software patent directive on the agenda as an A-item. This was done against the explicit will of several countries present at the meeting and ignoring the European Parliament as well as several national parliaments. The officially stated reason were "formal procedural rules."

July 6th, 2005: With an overwhelming majority of 648 of 680 votes, the European Parliament rejected the entire software patent directive: sending a strong message against software patents in Europe and a sign of protest against corruption of democratic processes. Now it will be important to establish democratic control of the European Patent Office (EPO) -- more information also available in the FSFE press release.