The European Council of Ministers will meet tomorrow afternoon to decide the fate of the EU Directive on software patentability, but instead of merely waving the directive through, there is to be a more thorough discussion of the issue.
The directive is the penultimate item on the agenda, which means that at least one member state has changed its position and is willing to stick its political neck out to get further debate, according to lobbyists at the FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure).
Last week, the Council declared consensus, and the directive was tabled as "A point" to be voted through without any further discussion. However, at a press conference at the European Parliament last week, ministers confirmed that the consensus on the issue was breaking up, and acknowledeged the need for more debate.
Germany, Belgium and Luxemborg are known to be unhappy with the revised draft, but the FFII says there has been a lot of activity in France, too. A spokesman for the organisation noted that the combined votes of France and Germany (20) would make a siginificant contribution to the 26 needed to block the draft in its current form.
If the Council can reach an agreement tomorrow, the text will be finalised and will be put on the agenda to be passed without further ado at a subsequent Council meeting. If not, it will be referred back to Parliament for a second reading.
Although no new amendments may be proposed in a second reading, those originally proposed by Parliament can be re-introduced. In September 2003, the Parliament made significant amendments to the original proposal. It defined a very strict set of circumstances under which software patents could be granted, and of the kinds of software that could be patented.
Passing them is difficult, however, as it requires a majority vote from all MEPs, not just those in attendance. ®
Want to find out more? If you live in London, the following will be of interest.
Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project, will be speaking in London this Friday (21 May). Entry is free.
The Dangers of Software Patents Friday, 6pm Cruciform Building, Lecture Theatre #1 University College London, Gower Street