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EU patent law under renewed fire

Green MEPs and German TV station pitch against software patenting

A planned European Union law that critics say would allow software to be patented has come under fire again, with Green members of Parliament (MEPs) and one Germany's biggest music TV channels attacking the legislation.

Forty-two MEPs from the Green/European Free Alliance group have asked to restart the legal process of defining the scope of the legislation on software patents. If endorsed by other political groups in the European Parliament, the move could allow Parliamentarians to remove changes introduced by national governments in the Council of Ministers in May, which opponents of the legislation claim would allow the patenting of software.

The patent directive was proposed by the EU's executive body, the European Commission, in February 2002.

"We need a new start for the software patents directive," Austrian Green MEP Eva Lichtenberger said. "The situation in Council... is so confused that Parliament must again take the issue into its hands."

She said ministers had made a "big mistake" when they ignored the Parliament's requests for changes to the legislation when they adopted their position on May 18, 2004, adopting a proposal which "principally serves the interests of big companies".

To allow software patenting would be a "big setback for Europe's growing IT sector," she said. Small and medium-sized businesses would be "especially hard hit", she said, as they could not afford patenting fees or the legal costs involved in obtaining patents.

The group of MEPs wrote at the end of last week to the President of the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee asking for the decision-making process on the directive to be restarted.

The committee has to decide whether to recommend restarting the procedure to the President of the Parliament. The move would then have to be supported by the leaders of the Parliament's political groups. It would, however, be very unusual for this procedure to be used and is unlikely to gain widespread backing in the Parliament as MEPs will get their second chance to state their views on the directive once the Council formally agrees to a position.

But the passing of the directive back to the Parliament was delayed in December, when the Council said it needed more time to draw up a statement outlining its concerns about planned legislation, especially in terms of its impact on small and medium-size companies.

Last Monday, a group of 61 MEPs from 13 countries and four political groups also asked for the decision-making process to restart.

In a separate development, on Saturday German music channel VIVA announced that it made its Kong42 code for dynamic web applications available to the public. Tobias Trotte, VIVA's interactive content director, said that the decision "must be understood as an absolute challenge against software patents”.

"For a long time we have been relying upon established open-source software. After a long period of taking, we give something back to the OSS community: KONG42," he said.

VIVA uses the Kong42 code as the core base for all its cross-media applications in the areas of interactive TV, internet and mobile applications. It is used for online community tools on www.viva.tv and www.vivaplus.tv as well as in the operation of its "Get the clip" TV show and an on-air 3D game controlled via SMS (Short Message Service).

Florian Müller, leader of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign, welcomed VIVA's announcement, saying "I applaud VIVA's decision and the declaration against software patents. True innovators such as VIVA don't want software patents because on the bottom line they create a lot more problems than they solve."

He added that VIVA's move also showed how "businesses in a wide variety of industries are concerned about software patents, while it's only a handful of large corporations that want to impose an American-style software patent regime on all of Europe."


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