October 05, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Software Patents - the stench lingers

The European Patent Litigation Agreement (blogged by us as Software Patents - back like a bad smell) remains on course to pass the European Parliament (EP) with a comfortable majority. Although the proposed legislation will not by itself bring Software Patents into our legal system, as it stands the legislation gives powers to the European Patent Court (EPC) which will lead to the enforcement of Software Patents in Britain and across the EU. Our best means to oppose this development is to write letters to our MEPs, informing them of the many reasons why we continue to reject Software Patents, and asking them to support a number of amendments to the EPLA.

For further information on these amendments, ffii have published What’s Happening and What You Can Do together with a detailed summary of current situation. Also, if you want further advice for your letter, there are usually at least two ffii activists working in the Parliament to support EPLA-critical efforts, who you can contact by writing to europarl-help at ffii org In particular, we need letters to go to Conservatives, who should be interested to know that these proposals - opposed by small, medium and even some large business - will increase European bureaucrats' control over Britain. Also, your Liberal Democrat MEPs - part of the ALDE voting group (see below) - should be reminded that their domestic counterparts do not support Software Patents.

Three of the major parties in the EP have agreed to a compromise; the EPLA will be approved but only on the understanding that "significant improvements" are made before it enters the statute books. For example, the Rules of Procedure for the new centralized European Patent Court should be properly defined in advance rather than thrashed out by the court itself. Given the lack of media coverage of EP proceedings, here's some detail on the voting blocks and the relative power of each group.

  • EPP-ED: the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats in the European Parliament. 264 MEPs includes 27 UK Conservative and Unionists. Supports the EPLA
  • PES: Party of European Socialists. 201 MEPs includes 19 UK Labour. Strongly criticise the EPLA
  • ALDE: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. 89 MEPs and is led by Graham Watson, a UK Liberal Democrat includes 12 UK Liberal Democrats. Unequivocally support the EPLA
  • Greens-EFA: The Greens | European Free Alliance. 42 MEPs includes 2 UK Greens, 2 Scottish National Party, 2 Plaid Cymru. Strongly criticise the EPLA. "EU Commission must not introduce EU patents by the backdoor"
  • GUE-NGL: European United Left–Nordic Green Left. 41 MEPs includes 1 Sinn Féin Strongly criticise the EPLA
  • UEN: Union for Europe of the Nations. 30 MEPs no UK MEPs
  • IND/DEM: Independence and Democracy. 29 MEPs includes 10 UK Independence Party MEPs. Strongly criticise the EPLA. "what part of "no" do they fail to understand"
  • Non-Aligned: 37 MEPs includes 2 UK MEPs
As the EPP-ED, PES and ALDE hold 567 out of a possible 732 seats, once they agree on any particular issue — as they do in this instance — the result (vote scheduled for 12/10) is a foregone conclusion. So, given its approval is all but inevitable, and the proposal in its current form will make it easier to enforce software patents its vital that you pressure for amendments by lobbying your MEP.