Brussels, 10 January 2005 -- A motion for a resolution, signed by 61 members of the European Parliament, calls for a new first reading of the software patent directive. The motion received particular support from !MEPs from Poland and other new member states. However, many veteran !MEPs also feel that the Council has "failed to do its homework". By merely codify current EPO practice instead of delivering a reasoned response to the Parliament's amendments of September 2003, the Council would place the EP in a difficult position to rectify everything again. A restart could, given the new insights and experiences gained over the past few years, allow for a balanced approach from the start.
The motion, initiated by Jerzy Buzek MEP (Christian Democrats, former prime minister of Poland) and Adam Gierek MEP (Socialists, Poland), refers to two procedural reasons that allow for returning to the first reading. The first reason is that since the previous first reading, the situation has substantially changed. Patent-related risks regarding software are becoming increasingly obvious to both public administrations and private entities, especially regarding their ability to order services from small and medium-size enterprises. Secondly, elections have been held since the previous first reading took place.
Among the signatories are many prominent !MEPs, including a former Commissioner, several vice presidents of the EP, vice chairmen of several groups, members of the bureau of several groups and a multitude of (main and vice) chairmen and chairwomen of various committees (including the Juridical Committee, which is responsible for this directive in the European Parliament). Due to the short time span in which signatures were collected right before the holidays, it was impossible to include several other !MEPs that wanted to sign the motion as well.
The 18 May 2004 text of the Council was written by the Council's "Working Group on Intellectual Property (Patents)", which consists of more or less the same people that sit on the European Patent Office's Administrative Council. Being delegates from national patent offices and ministries, most of them also advised their governments on how to vote on the text they wrote. Ever since they, together with the Commission, managed to force a political agreement to be reached on the text, unwritten diplomatic rules have been used to prevent dissenting states from reopening discussions, undermining European democracy.
It is very unlikely that a text like the 18 May version of the Council could, in the future, again win support from a qualified majority:
It has become clear to all parties involved that the directive as proposed by the Commission and Council includes patents on plain computer programs executed on conventional computers, also known as software patents.
Poland officially declared they do not support the May text.
The unilateral declarations of concerns, which were prepared for the Council adoption by countries that officially still support the text (Hungary, Latvia, France), indicated that several supporters have second thoughts.
In a new first reading, the European Parliament will have time to further improve its previous text. It will be able to amend the, potentially new, Commission proposal with regular majorities and won't be limited to 3 or 4 months to reach a constructive consensus, as would be the case in a second reading. Subsequently, the Council will also have to hold a new first reading, enabling concerned member states to discuss the issues at hand instead of diplomatic customs.
Jonas Maebe, board member of FFII, comments:
- A renewed referral would be a win for all parties that want a text based on substance and democratic legitimacy, as opposed to one based on diplomatic rigidity. New member states will be able to have their say from the beginning, and hopefully the Council will decide that its next first reading text should not be written by the same people that rule the European Patent Office.