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Wednesday is New Deadline to Comment on EU Patent System
Monday, April 10 2006 @ 03:53 AM EDT

The Directorate General for Internal Market of the European Commission has extended the deadline for "stakeholders" to comment on the patent system in Europe until April 12th. That's Wednesday. That means it's not too late, should you wish to express your views. Their website says this is what they'd like to have you address:
The Directorate General for Internal Market and Services is consulting stakeholders on their needs in relation to the legal framework and possible actions in the field of industrial property.

Views are sought on the patent system in Europe, and what changes if any are needed to improve innovation and competitiveness, growth and employment in the knowledge-based economy....

Please note that this deadline determines which replies will be taken into account for the hearing on 13 June 2006. However, we welcome all replies submitted after the deadline. They will be duly analysed and taken into account by the Commission in formulation of the future patent policy in Europe.

The extension was asked for by FFII, who filed a formal complaint to the EU Commission's President and then met with the Commission to request an extension.

Their press release explains:

"The original deadline was impossible to meet", said Pieter Hintjens, President of the FFII. "We spoke to many firms that were still preparing their response at the stroke of midnight on 31 March. The Commission has not answered all of our complaints, but this extension is welcome and helpful."...

The FFII and other organisations, including large software producers such as SAP, view the consultation procedure (which covers the Community Patent EU project and the European Patent Litigation Agreement EPO project) as the third attempt to introduce software patents into Europe.

If you'd like to see what some others have already filed, here's Red Hat's submission and iMatix's comments. There are some studies on the effects of patents here.

The FFII is asking businesses and organizations to endorse its position paper, “The Consultation on Future Patent Policy in Europe – WGEPL/0601” [PDF] by filling in a form they have on their website, printing it out, signing it, and faxing it back to them, and then they will hand it in the day before the new deadline. The form to participate is available at http://patinfo.ffii.org/faxcollect.en.html

Here's part of what Red Hat wrote, for example:

4.1 What aspects of patent law do you feel give rise to barriers to free movement or distortion of competition because of differences in law or its application in practice between the Member States?

Red Hat believes the existence of business method and software patents are detrimental to both competition and innovation. In particular, the software industry operated successfully and produced dramatic innovation for years relying solely on copyright and trade secret law without software patents. Even after software patents were available, most software companies pursued them solely for defensive purposes. It has only been in recent years that a handful of large software companies have sought to use software patents as a means of sustaining dominant positions in the market, thus reducing competition and, in so doing, innovation. There is inconsistent treatment of software and business method patents among the member states of the European Union and the European Patent Office. Any Community Patent system should be established on the most conservative common denominator of such treatment, permitting patents on software only where such patents produce a tangible effect in hardware outside of general purpose computers.

4.2 To what extent is your business affected by such differences?

Red Hat believes any system that permits widespread issuance of software patents will damage not only our business, but the entire software industry, and will slow the rate of innovation by reducing competition.

4.3 What are your views on the value-added and feasibility of the different options (1)-(3) outlined above?

Harmonization of patent law, without addressing the fundamental issues of its necessity in producing innovation and competition within the software industry, is worse than the present state of the various patent systems in operation in Europe.

4.4 Are there any alternative proposals that the Commission might consider?

The Commission should insist that the European Patent Office address the issues of software and business method patents in a manner consistent with its charter, particularly Article 52 thereof.

5.1 How important is the patent system in Europe compared to other areas of legislation affecting your business?

No single piece of legislation that could be considered by the European Commission could do our business and the software industry more harm. The thicket of software patents (more than 200,000 have been issued in the U.S.) have created a degree of complexity and financial burden that no SME will be able to effectively compete. It would be detrimental to the developing software industry in Europe to have a similar system imposed.


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