Strasbourg, 15 March 2006. Members of the European Parliament successfully opposed a move by a MEP to jeopardise the annual Lisbon report. He had proposed to ask the Commission for mutual recognition of patent law, which would have resulted in a flood of patent suits all over Europe, lower quality standards, and worsen the software patents problem.
The new round of the European debate on patent policy has started with a first victory for anti-software patent campaigners. A majority of the European Parliament today voted against calling on the European Commission for a legislative proposal to stipulate the mutual recognition of national patents by the 25 member states of the EU. Such mutual recognition would make the patents that the national patent office of any EU country grants enforceable against companies in all other member states.
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) and Florian Mueller, the founder of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign, lobbied MEPs to vote against the related passage of a proposed resolution, stressing that the mutual recognition of national patents “would result in a flood of patent suits all over Europe, lower quality standards, and ever more software patents”, among other things because patent applicants would “shop around” to find patent offices that are most willing to grant patents which would then be valid in the entire EU.
The call for mutual recognition of patents that had been sponsored by Klaus Heiner Lehne MEP. Lehne, a German conservative, holds a job as a lobbyist with the law firm Taylor Wessing, which handles many cases of patent litigation especially in his home town of Dusseldorf and represents large corporations in many areas of commercial law.
Mueller called the outcome of today’s vote in the European Parliament “excellent news from Strasbourg”. His recently started blog also explains the voting mechanism, a so-called split vote, that prevented the text from going through as proposed by Lehne. Mueller published large parts of a memorandum that Lehne had written to other EU politicians late last year and in which the MEP claimed that the mutual recognition of national patents would make Europe more competitive. By calling on the European Commission to make a proposal for the mutual recognition of patents, the European Parliament would not have taken a final legislative decision today, but such a call “would have been a disappointing start [for anti-software patent campaigners] with respect to the EU’s new patent policy initiative, and it would have had negative effects for the future”, he added.
Benjamin Henrion of the FFII welcomes the European Parliament’s decision because this way the parliament “keeps all options open for the future of the European patent system” in light of the European Commission’s ongoing consultation on patent policy, which is preparatory to new legislative proposals that EU observers expect the Commission to put forward after the summer. Henrion said it would have been “a pity if Lehne’s proposal had slipped through as one of 67 items of a resolution on the EU’s Lisbon Agenda for innovation and economic policy”.
Rufus Pollock, director of the FFII UK, calls on companies and individuals who are concerned about software patents to participate in the EU’s consultation on patent policy: “Today was a great result for us, but there will be many more and bigger challenges ahead as the Commission prepares new proposals concerning patent policy. It’s very important that many companies and individuals write to the Commission before the deadline on March 31. Answering the Commission’s questionnaire is tricky, but the FFII has set up a web site that provides further explanation, or people can also use Florian’s position paper and submit it in their name.”
Today’s resolution of the European Parliament was based on motion B6-0162/2006, which had been jointly introduced by the chairpersons of the three largest groups in the parliament (EPP-ED, PES, ALDE).
At the request of EPP-ED and ALDE, paragraph 43 was subject to a split vote. The proposed text without the words “small” and “mutual recognition” was carried, while a majority voted against proposals to insert those words.
Piia-Noora Kauppi MEP took the initiative in the EPP-ED group meeting yesterday evening to have her group support the text which was carried today.
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The FFII is a not-for-profit association registered in twenty European countries, dedicated to the development of information goods for the public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, open standards. More than 850 members, 3,500 companies and 100,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing.