2004-07-02 NL Parliament forces Minister to withdraw support from EU Council software patent agreement

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On the evening of July 1st, the Dutch Parliament voted to urge the Minister of Economic Affairs Laurens Van Brinkhorst and Secretary of State Karien van Gennip to withdraw the Dutch vote in support of the Council's text for the Directive on Software Patents.

The idea of allowing patents on software has been strongly criticized among SMEs, scientists and consumer organisations. They inhibit investments in Research and Development and contribute to higher prices.

This act represents an strong criticism of the Council of the EU's attempts to introduce broad patentability of software and label it as a compromise: Minister Brinkhorst, acting on behalf of the Netherlands, endorsed the Council's current proposal, which not only reiterated the terms of the European Commission's strongly criticized initial directive proposal, but went even further, directly rebuffing the clear stance assumed by the European Parliament, which added amendments on September 24 2003 which lay down strict limitations and which express that logical algorithms and the ideas found in software cannot be patented.

This European Parliament's 1st reading made clear that patents should only be allowed for industrial inventions (e.g. washing machines) and would not be made possible for, what patent law calls computer programs. These limitations were removed in the negotiations between patent office representatives which were used as the "compromise" by the Council of the European Union.

The Council endorsed the result of this controversial smoking-room negotiation which replaced the democratically voted exclusions from the European Parliament with dummy exclusions which pose no practical limitation to what patent offices and patent attorneys want. (Which seems to be a clear signal to empower the EPO to continue it's strongy criticised US-like patenting practise - e.g. see the Amazon gift ordering patent).

Earlier, Brinkhorst described the Council proposal to the Dutch Parliament as a compromise with the European Parliament. In recent legislative debates, Van Gennip was forced to admit that this was incorrect information, and attributed it to "an error in the word processor."

The Dutch Parliament rejected this explanation and today, it adopted an historic and groundbreaking decision, calling upon Minister Brinkhorst and van Gennip to withdraw the Netherlands' supporting vote in the Council of the European Union and convert it to an abstention(which in effect as voting "no", only the "yes" votes really count).

This is possible because at the moment the Council of the European Union only has found an "political agreement" and the formal adotion of the common position can only take place after the contested text has been translated into the 20 European languages.

Dutch Parliament demonstrated the active interest which public holds in the debate over software patents. Dieter Van Uytvanck, spokesman of FFII Netherlands, stresses the importance of this decision:

This political signal reaches much further than just the Netherlands. We hope that other European countries that also have their doubts about the proposal of the Council will also withdraw their support, so that the current proposal no longer has a majority. The historic precedent has been set now.

Let this be a lesson to the lawmakers in Brussels: the European citizens watch you closely. It is much better to take this into account from the beginning than to get into trouble later.

Reports of the earlier debates which the text refers to are available at:


Wiebe van der Worp tel. +31 6 28 195 808

Ir. Arend Lammertink: tel. +31 6 5425 6426

Dieter Van Uytvanck: tel. +32 499 16 70 10

The Motion and its supporters

Supporters of the Motion

The following parties supported this motion (with nr. of seats):



Christian democrats



social democrats



left-wing, GUE/NGL



green party



popular party



left-wing liberals



christian, EDD



christian, EDD

Opponents of the Motion

Only 1 party, to which Bolkestein belongs:

| VVD | 28 | right wing liberals |

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