Press release Unizo regarding software patents

On 20 February 2002, the European Commission launched its proposal for a directive regarding the patentability of computer-implemented inventions. On 16 and 17 June this directive will be discussed in the Commission for Legal Affairs and the Internal Market and on 30 June in the plenary meeting. The Economic and Social Committee has taken a standpoint regarding this measure in the meeting of 18-19 September 2002. In its conclusion, the Committee prefers the Commission's proposal to be reviewed thoroughly.

The Committee also agrees that in the software industry, thought should be given to the legal protection of programs. The Committee wonders however whether this measure is the most appropriate one for that purpose. Unizo joins the Economic and Social Committee in its criticism on the proposal. The Commission nowhere explains how this patent patent proposal protects program developers better against copying than copyright. Additionally, no analysis is provided which would show that patents for in computers implemented inventions would provide advantages to SME's and micro-enterprises. Until today, the software industry in Europe could blossom under the umbrella of copyright, which apparently didn't hamper investments. Also, patents can solidify monopolies in this industry.

The directive should at least be amended with adequate assurances so that the protection provided by the directive remains limited to strictly technical software solutions and so that that economical methods and business methods are explicitely excluded herefrom. This is a minimal requirement to let this quickly developing branche continue to flourish, as well as benefit the end-users. With this point of view, Unizo does not strive for free but for affordable software. Investments must be done daily in this sector and this is made impossible for SME's by extending the patentability to the realm of intellectual property and applications of general economical nature.

It is clear that software is different from industrial products, which can be protected perfectly well by patents. Software is not a unique product but continues to build on previous ideas. New developments by SME's would be made (nearly) impossible by patent protection. Research into the difficulties and consequences for SME's is missing in the analysis preceding the proposed directive. Buffers to avoid potential abuses, are not built in. The effect of this measure has to be researched thoroughly in advance.

The debate about this issue in Europe is clearly not yet finished. Unizo would like to ask for furhter thorough research given the extensive economic implications of this measure on the SME's in Europe.