McCreevy answers question of Ebner MEP on "what's next with software patents?"

Internal Market Commissioner Mc Creevy announced that he does not intend to solve the software patents problem by a directive in his term of office. He did not answer questions by Meps but repeated his statement. In matters of EU-Parliament involvement in patent policy he claimed he supported codecision but procedures were determined by the EU treaties.


Written question by Ebner MEP

Given the still unresolved issues surrounding the patentability of computer-implemented inventions (software patents), the question arises what the Commission will do next.

What future measures does the Commission propose to take in this area?

Is it true that, in spite of the European Parliament’s clear rejection on 6 July 2005, the Commission is still seeking a solution in line with the rejected common position?

Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission

In its vote of 6 July 2005, Parliament rejected the Council common position on the directive on computer-implemented inventions, which implies rejection of the proposed directive. As a result, there are no Community legal texts which will regulate this issue. The vote and the far-reaching debate which preceded it demonstrated that the time was not ripe for a meaningful piece of legislation to be adopted on this issue. Therefore, a new proposal dealing specifically with the patentability of computer- implemented inventions would not be desirable. As a consequence, the legal framework applicable to computer- implemented inventions in Europe remains Article 52 of the European Patent Convention, which excludes computer programs as such from patentability. Earlier this year, the Commission's Directorate-General for the Internal Market and Services launched a broad consultation of all interested parties on the future patent policy in Europe, with a particular focus on the structure of the European patent system. The deadline for the consultation was 12 April 2006, and preliminary findings will be discussed with stakeholders at the hearing in Brussels on 12 July 2006. Consultation is intended to ensure that any further possible action in the area of EU patents policy takes account of all stakeholders' needs without discrimination. Parliament will be duly informed of the results of this consultation. One of the options presented to stakeholders refers to the Commission's proposal for Community patent regulation. The Commission would like to point out that its possible adoption will not alter the substantive rules governing patentability which are set out in the EPC and would not extend patentability to software as such. Moreover, the new jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would improve the safeguards against the grant of patents in error to a computer program. Therefore, the Commission does not intend to present a new proposal along the lines of the rejected common position on CII.

Michl Ebner (PPE-DE)

Frau Präsidentin! Herr Kommissar, Ihre Antwort war kurz, aber verständlich und klar. Danke dafür. Ich bin sehr positiv angetan davon, wie breit Sie die Informationsaufnahme auslegen wollen, und auch von der Transparenz. Zu einem Thema hätte ich noch gerne nähere Informationen von Ihnen bekommen. Sie haben erklärt, dass das Europäische Parlament informiert wird. Ich glaube, dass es in diesen Entscheidungsprozess wohl auch miteingebunden werden soll, und aus diesem Grunde möchte ich wissen, wie Sie sich das vorstellen.

Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission

The European Parliament will also participate in this consultation. As I said in my reply, we asked for a consultation on the whole area of patents policy. The closing date for submissions was 12 April 2006. There will be a hearing in Brussels on 12 July 2006. That will be a consultation about the whole area of patent policy and does not specifically refer to computer-implemented inventions. I said in the debate leading up to the European Parliament vote that if the European Parliament were to reject the proposal at that stage I would not bring forward a further proposal in the area, so I shall not be bringing forward a further proposal.

Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE)

I am very pleased to hear that, Commissioner. We made our position clear last year when we blocked the common position, which would have codified the EPO's disputable software patent practice. That was the right decision, and your decision not to table a new proposal is also the right one. I should like to ask a question regarding the more general work regarding patent policy. We now have a lot of proposals on the table, such as the Community patent, a European patent litigation agreement and maybe even some suggestions for finally changing the EPC. What do you think the procedure should be for this? Should Parliament have codecision?

Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission

As the honourable Member is aware, the proposal on the Community patent has been stuck at a certain stage and we have been unable to make progress. Therefore, at the end of last year I thought that, rather than waiting for things to evolve, it was important to have a general consultation as to how stakeholders felt we should move forward. As I have said at committee meetings, it is still my intention to give the Community patent one last try during my term of office. I will decide when I think is the best time to get that done and give it my best efforts at that time. I thought it was not good to leave things in abeyance and that it would be better to have this consultation about general patent policy, and that is what these consultations are about. The question the honourable Member asked regarding codecision is a matter for the Treaties. However, I personally favour codecision.

Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE)

Please, Commissioner, when we discuss this in the future, can we make sure that the small enterprises are more involved than the first time around. One of the reasons it was rejected was that many small developers felt threatened by this legislation and the big lobby organisations followed the big companies' lines, which in most cases are contrary to the good healthy development of alternatives because they will be strangled by the patents of the big companies. So please make sure they have their voices heard from the beginning next time. If not, the next issue will be blocked the second time round.

Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission

The Commission did in fact consult !SMEs on the last occasion, but I will pass on your remarks to the next Commissioner. As I have repeatedly said, I will not be going into this area in my time as Commissioner. However, I will gladly leave it on file and it will be available for the next Commissioner who takes over this responsibility.

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