Brussels, 25 Feb 2003
A draft opinion aimed at defining the patentability of computer implemented inventions more clearly, was backed on 19 February by the European Parliament's Committee on industry and research.
The draft opinion asks clearly, 'whether the limits of what is patentable are still sufficiently clear and properly applied, especially since the various national laws and the EPO [European Patent Office] do not always take account of the same criteria.' It warns that that the current proposal, despite the Commission's claims, 'paves the way to a broader use of patents as a model for protecting computer software.'
The draft opinion refers to the text of Directive 91/250/EEC , which focuses on the legal protection of computer programmes. While the current text excludes computer programmes as well as business methods from patentability, there is evidence that patents relating to software and related inventions have been granted for devices and processes in technical areas which cannot operate independently of the software components that they implement.
With a view to better defining the criteria for patentability so that abuses and perverse effects can be avoided, MEPs called for a better definition of the term 'computer-implemented invention', which is used throughout the Commission's proposal.
The draft opinion also pays particular attention to the important role of software as a basic form of creativity and self-expression. With more than 10 million professional developers throughout the world and tens of millions of people creating software for one purpose or another, MEPs agreed that patents should not permit the monopolisation of such tools for self-expression, creativity, and the dissemination and exchange of information and knowledge.
It is hoped that such an amendment will also prevent purely business methods, normal computer programmes and mathematical or other methods from being considered patentable.
'A computer-implemented invention should not be considered patentable simply because a computer is used or because the program, performed on a programmable apparatus that is not novel itself, is novel. A technical contribution is required,' suggested MEPs
The powers delegated to the European Patent Office (EPO) were also called into question by MEPs, who asked whether they were still compatible with the requirements arising from the harmonisation of European Union legislation and with the principles of transparency and responsibility.
Finally, draftswoman Elly Plooij-van Gorsel noted that patents did not constitute the only form of protection and that more attention needs to be paid to alternative protection schemes which are better suited to the specificities of computer software.
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