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EU Software Patent Last-Minute News
Tuesday, July 05 2005 @ 02:01 PM EDT

I have just gotten a report on the debate over the EU software patent directive. "In a dramatic debate today, it became clear that there could be a majority for *complete rejection* of the directive." Details will follow on Business Week has a piece Official: EU software patent law in danger:

Klaus-Heiner Lehne, a German member of the parliament's conservative faction who is also coordinator of the assembly's powerful legal committee, said Tuesday that rejection of the bill was a "very real possibility."

The Register confirms. Sounds good. I'm sure those dudes will think of something, though, so I am waiting with caution.

Some links I was just sent, if you want to follow along closely:

You can watch today's debate in the EU Parliament on I know. Windows Media. Sigh.

UPDATE: A reader points out that you can get ogg and mp3 here.

The pictures of the demonstration in Strasbourg.

You can watch the vote tomorrow live here.

The actual vote will take place tomorrow between noon and 1 pm CET (Wednesday). And just in case you were wondering why all this was necessary in the first place, when it's obvious no one wants this directive as is but Microsoft and pals, read The Wall Street Journal's article, "Politics, Business Mix Freely In Europe Parliament -- Patent-Law Reversal Shows How Members' Outside Jobs May Aid Corporate Interests", by Mary Jacoby and Glenn R. Simpson, which you can access, if you have a subscription, from this page.

It begins like this:

In his job with a leading German patent-law firm, Klaus-Heiner Lehne advises corporate clients on European Union policy. In his second job, as a member of the European Parliament, Mr. Lehne also shapes policy: In June, he helped rewrite a patent proposal more to the liking of big software makers.

Two other European legislators from Germany who have favored stronger software-patent protections also have industry ties. One works with another top patent-law firm, and another sits on the board of U.S. software giant Veritas Software Corp. and holds options to buy 85,416 shares of Veritas stock, according to U.S. securities filings.

All three illustrate how weak ethics and disclosure laws in Brussels, the seat of EU institutions, allow legislators to influence the outcome of debates without their connections receiving attention from the public or their colleagues. In this case, stronger patent protections that earlier had been rejected by Parliament were revived after a campaign led by Microsoft Corp., SAP AG, Siemens AG, Nokia Corp. and other companies with portfolios of software patents. . . .

Mr. Lehne said he wasn't required to advise fellow members of Parliament about a potential conflict during committee debate on the software legislation, because EU law requires notification only if the member has a direct financial interest at stake.

You know what I've been starting to think about? I learned from the AMD press conference that any anticompetitive action can be used in an antitrust complaint. If, down the road, Microsoft does attack GNU/Linux on patent infringement grounds, why isn't all this lobbying and undermining an example that could be used to demonstrate antitrust violation? Ditto on the standards wars.

CNBC Europe will be discussing the directive on "Morning Exchange" at 10:30 AM GMT tomorrow with lobbyist David Chan. Here's a German language article in Der Spiegel on the debate. Here's a good article in French. The Wall Street Journal has this interesting tidbit as well:

A few big U.S. companies, including International Business Machines Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Red Hat Inc., also oppose strengthening patent laws in Europe.

Forbes tells it more simply, reprinting from AFX News:

The bill's rapporteur, former French prime minister Michel Rocard, argued against patents for software, saying: 'What is immaterial is not technical and should not be patentable.'

He said that what was at stake in the bill was the free movement of ideas, respect for competition and the protection of individuals and small firms in the face of big multinational companies.

Mr. Lehne, the Journal tells us, "emerged as leader of the drive for language sought by big tech firms that would establish their ability to obtain certain types of software patents. In addition, he offered more than a dozen pro-patent amendments of his own, many of which were approved by the panel." To see all the amendments proposed, go here, and if you wish to read FFII's take on them, go to this page.

Take a look particularly at proposed amendment 68 (and definitions in Amendment 69 and 70). My understanding is that is the one favored by IBM, with grudging support from Red Hat, Oracle and Sun. And yes, on this issue, Sun has been helpful, not hurtful, from all I've heard.

The amendments FFII view as most important are the amendments to Articles 3, 4.1, 4.2, 5.2 and 6a. By the way, FFII says that MEPS are apparently no longer reading email about the directive. You can only reach them in Strasbourg by phone or fax.

I want to thank everyone who sent me all this fascinating material. Groklaw is Groklaw because of you.

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