EU move prompts fresh fears about software patents

The European Union’s request for comments on an effective way to protect intellectual property in Europe has prompted fears of a renewed attempt to allow software to be patented, after an earlier patents initiative was blocked last year.

The European Commission, which is responsible for drafting new legislation for the 25-member European Union, launched a new round of consultations Monday on a patent regime for the E.U.

Announcing the initiative, E.U. internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy said good intellectual property rules are essential to stimulate innovation and encourage the development of new products. He said he wanted to make a unified patent system for the E.U. a reality.

At the center of the discussions will be whether to revive work on a European Community-wide patent system for all 25 member states. E.U. governments have been trying to agree upon rules for a Community patent since 2000, but progress has been blocked by the refusal of countries such as Germany and Spain to allow English to be the official language for applications. Both countries fear they will lose lucrative patent registration work if their right to issue patents in their national languages are not protected.

Austria, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the E.U., has said it will restart discussions on the Community patent in the coming months.

Members of the open source software community warned that the new initiative could be an attempt to reintroduce patents for software, which they say will harm innovation and unfairly benefit big technology vendors. The Commission’s announcement of consultations with industry lobbyists were “a definitive indication that our camp has to take action again,” said Florian M