Government says "no" to US software patent model - Minister meets patent critics to clarify proposals

December 15, 2004

London, 14 Dec 2004

Minister for Science & Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, today outlined the Government's firm commitment to a patent system which fosters and supports innovation in all areas of technology, including inventions which rely on software.

The proposed European Directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions will not adversely impact on the software market, particularly in relation to Open Source, but will instead help support a strong and vibrant technology based industry.

Critics of the proposed Directive, who have been engaged in a letter writing campaign to government and MPs over the last five years, today were invited to discuss their concerns at a meeting with the Minister and Patent Office officials.

Speaking at the meeting Lord Sainsbury said:

"It is vital for Europe to have a climate which supports the software industry, including the valuable role Open Source has to play."

"Patents provide the confidence to invest in R&D for technological industries and the current draft Directive will ensure that Europe continues to strikes the right balance and provides clarity as to what can and cannot be patented with regard to computer-implemented inventions. It does not change anything, but maintains the status quo."

"Changes in patent practice in the US in the last five years have caused concern in some areas of the computer industry and the Directive will ensure that Europe continues on its own path which is a balanced approach that both creates a climate for innovation and supports open source software."

Peter Hayward of the Patent Office also addressed the meeting. He said:

"The Directive, in its current form, is vital in protecting the innovations in the European software market."

"The intention is to maintain high criteria for those seeking patent protection, and to prevent any drift in patent standards towards the current US position."

"This was a highly productive meeting which brought out a number of key issues in the discussion which we will take forward."

The Patent Office has been in consultation with the software industry since 1994. Responses to both formal and informal consultation have indicated that the law does not need to be changed, but requires clarification.

The Patent Office estimates that up to 20% of patent applications received are for inventions which use software. Mere computer program listings, like lines of code, are protected by copyright but excluded from patent protection in the UK and Europe. However inventions in which software makes a technical contribution, like a mobile telephone or car engine management systems, have always been and will continue to be patentable. Patents like these underpin the research and development infrastructures of many hi-tech businesses in Europe.

The Directive is expected to return to the European Parliament for a second reading early next year.

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