More than a year has passed since the European Parliament’s historic rejection of the Commission’s and Council’s software patent bill. Now this zombie legislation is shambling through parliament again: on October 11 or 12, the EP is set to vote in Brussels on two competing motions for a resolution on future European patent policy. Next week, internal market commissioner McCreevy will speak in the EP in Strasbourg and outline his patent policy plans, which have already come under fire.
The European Patent Litigation Agreement would impose an integrated judicial system and appeals process across Europe. It would do this by taking the power to rule on patents from national courts and putting it into the hands of a court made up of European Patent Office (EPO) members. This is really just a cunning way of making software patents enforceable across Europe. The law as it stands now states that software patents are illegal in Europe, but the EPO tends to ignore that and grant patents for software anyway. This has not been much of a problem as they are unenforceable — whenever someone tried to enforce these patents they had to do so in an particular national court. These courts would then say 'you cannot patent software' and rule against them.
Commissioner McCreevy proclaimed blissful ignorance about the consequences of the European Patent Litigation Agreement. In a series of six non-answers to Members of the European Parliament, the Commission failed to comment on cost, judicial independence, jurisprudence and treaty-related concerns. Meanwhile McCreevy keeps praising the virtues of said draft agreement.
A joint proposal of three groups — PES, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL — calls for “balance between the interests of patent holders and the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets”. The motion criticizes McCreevy’s preferred measure, the European Patent Litigation Agreement, for weakening EU democracy, compromising judicial independence, increasing litigation costs and “exposing SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to greater risks”. The proposal also warns against the effect the European Patent Litigation Agreement would have on the scope of patentable subject-matter, and a decision of the European Patent Office to uphold a Microsoft software patent (on clipboard data formats) is mentioned as an example.