Ireland’s Disastrous EU Presidency

Patents: Disastrous for European software developers, that is.

It looks like Ireland’s EU Council Presidency is pushing through some nasty stuff on behalf of the European Patent Office. FFII says:

On all points where substantial controversy exists, the Council Working Party has taken the most hardline pro-patent view of all parties. They make patentability hinge on the word ‘technical’ and yet refuse to explain what that word means. They have refused the interoperability exemption which even the Legal Affairs Committee had accepted. They have rejected the freedom of publication. They are insisting on making programs directly claimable, something which even Arlene McCarthy and the Commission did not advocate.

Nokia’s Patent Department is leading the PR push:

The (Nokia call-for-support) letter calls on ministers to drop their objections, and to support a draft text issued by the Irish Presidency on March 17th: ‘All of Europe’s innovators, including individual inventors, small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), as well as large multinational companies, require patents to protect their inventions, provide incentives to undertake research and development in Europe, and to promote licensing and technology transfer’, claims the letter.

‘Nokia doesn’t seem to be counting Opera among the European innovators’, comments Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software Inc, an innovation leader in the web browser market and producer of much of the software used in Nokia’s mobile phones.

Note that it’s the Patent Department of Nokia, not necessarily Nokia’s top brass, pushing this — here’s a relevant anecdote from FFII:

The patent officials never see the CEOs themselves, and when they appear in public, their thinking on patent matters may surprise the audience. Last week Airbus CEO Peter Kleinschmidt was invited as a pro-patent speaker to a panel in Paris but then, during his speech, congratulated his co-panelist Michel Rocard for his important contributions to containing the expansion of the patent system, which, as he described in detail, was slowing down innovation at Airbus.

(The economic studies and the US’ Federal Trade Commission both concur, incidentally. But it’s pretty unlikely a patent lawyer will say the same thing in public ;)

On the other side, 15 MEPs have signed their own Call For Action which points out that ‘patent professionals in various governments and organisations are now trying to use the EU Council of Ministers in order to sidestep parliamentary democracy in the European Union’ and urges the Council to ‘refrain from any counter-proposals to the European Parliament’s version of the draft, unless such counter-proposals have been explicitely endorsed by a majority decision of the member’s national parliament’.

Let’s see if Ireland’s presidency will do it the democratic way, or in a back-room deal, over all our heads…

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