Here's a smoking press release from Europarl on the plenary debate Tuesday night, in which Charlie McCreevy tried to tell the MEPs why he didn't submit the software patent draft directive for a new first reading by Parliament. It's a riot. They are not buying the story, and to my reading, they are ready to fight. I'd call that a good sign. The press release is from their website, but the site is now broken. Here is where you'll find it when they are back up. FFII transcripts here.
Here's more from ZDNET:
The European Commission (EC) will not stand in the European Parliament's (EP) way if it decides to reject the draft directive on software-related patents, the Commission told the Parliament on Tuesday evening.
If the EP does decide to kill the directive, there will be no new proposal from the EC, Charlie McCreevy, commissioner for the Internal Market, told a Parliament plenary session. "You can of course reject or substantially amend the proposal," he said. "If the Parliament decides to reject it, then the Commission will respect your wishes. I will not propose a new directive."
He wants it to be their fault, I gather, if they can't get a majority, and they only need a majority now because he made it harder by not asking for a restart. And the article says McCreevy is challenging them by saying, It's the current language or nothing. That makes it harder to get a majority too. Ugh. Politics.
9 March 2005
Computerised inventions: the ball is in Parliament's court
The quarrel between the Commission and Parliament over the directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions goes on. During a plenary debate on Tuesday evening, MEPs attacked the Commission's refusal to submit its draft directive for a new first reading by Parliament. They also criticised the directive's scope.
Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told MEPs that the Commission could not have put forward a new proposal, since the Council had been about to adopt its common position (which it did on Monday). He then also defended the scope of the directive, saying "it does not include software as such".
Mr McCreevy argued that the Commission had drafted its proposal in such a way as to avoid including software patents. He said the directive is needed to ensure legal clarity and that "in the absence of the directive, software patents will continue to be granted". The Commissioner then stressed his eagerness to take account of the EP's second-reading opinion. "If the Parliament will reject the proposal, the Commission will respect it and I will not put forward another proposal", he said.
"This is a disastrous situation", said Michel ROCARD (PES, FR), Parliament's rapporteur. He argued that it was important to limit the scope of the directive to avoid confusion, since the text was not clear about "what is patentable and what is not". All political groups criticised the directive's scope as too vague, saying it risked limiting freedom of expression and encouraging unfair competition from big software firms. Some MEPs also stressed the need to protect smaller firms from additional legal costs, saying that copyright already provided legal protection for software.
Asked by numerous MEPs how he was going to take into account all the criticisms made by MEPs and national governments, Mr McCreevy replied "the ball is now in the Parliament's court".
Some MEPs have also accused the Commission of ignoring Parliament's opinion. Criticism of the Commission's behaviour followed Mr Barroso's rejection of the request for renewed consultation, made last month by the EP Conference of Presidents under Rule 55 of Parliament's Rules of Procedures, which allows Parliament to demand a fresh look at any legislation following elections. The Commission President's response was that restarting the legislative procedure would create chaos but this argument was regarded as inadequate by MEPs.
In the common position it adopted on Monday - despite a unanimous request from the EP's political groups to withdraw it - the Competitiveness Council ignored most of Parliament's first-reading amendments. The European Parliament now has three to four months to adopt its second reading. To reject the text or to approve any amendments requires a majority of the EP's component Members (367 votes).
The directive is intended to harmonise the various national patent laws by clarifying what is patentable and what is not. The central issue is whether the current practice of the European Patent Office, which issues patents for computerised inventions, should be formally legalised. Since its first reading, the directive has been criticised by supporters of "open source" software, mainly smaller companies, who are afraid that patenting would raise legal costs. They claim copyright already protects their inventions and, unlike patents, is cost-free. On the other hand, the directive is supported by big software firms, which stress the need to defend European inventions from US competition and to encourage research spending.
In September 2003, the EP proposed amendments to ensure that computer programs as such could not be patented. MEPs argued that, in order to be patentable, computerised inventions must have an industrial application (e.g. cell phones or household appliances), involve an inventive step and bring a technical contribution to the state of the art. In other words, Parliament's amendments sought to make it clear that the mere use of software is not a technical contribution.