EU move prompts fresh fears about software patents

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

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

Announcing the initiative, E.U. internal market commissionerCharlie McCreevy said good intellectual property rules areessential to stimulate innovation and encourage the development ofnew products. He said he wanted to make a unified patent system forthe E.U. a reality.

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

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

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

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