Polish green light will unblock E.U. patent deadlock

The current deadlock over the European Union’s fiercely contested plans to allow patents for software will be unblocked next week when Poland gives the green light to a controversial deal struck by ministers last May.

In December Poland blocked formal approval of the deal, which opponents of the legislation argue will allow patenting of pure software, saying it needed more time to register its concerns about the new rules’ impact on small and medium-sized businesses. But Poland has indicated it will not oppose the official adoption of the text of the May deal, due to be agreed to at a meeting of E.U. farm ministers next Monday.

This will allow the European Parliament, which has joint powers of decision over this legislation, to start work on responding to the ministers’ May position.

Under the E.U.’s decision-making rules, once Parliament has given its view, the Council, made up of ministers from the E.U.’s 25 national governments, gets another chance to table its version of the rules. In the final stage, the Parliament and the Council have to reach agreement among themselves on the legislation.

A Polish official confirmed that his country’s minister would not repeat his request for a delay in adoption of the text as his country had finalized a declaration expressing its concern about the rules’ implications for small and medium-sized businesses.

“We would like to underline our concerns because we would like to ensure the financial situation of small and medium-sized businesses”, he said.

Florian Mueller of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign said that he was not particularly disappointed that the Poles were now accepting a text they blocked in December. “I’m disappointed at other countries who didn’t join them,” he said. In December, three other countries (Latvia, Hungary and the Netherlands) expressed their concern at the draft legislation but did not oppose approval of the text.

There is expected to be a major fight in the months ahead between member of Parliament (MEPs) and the Council over the directive. In the Parliament’s first opinion on the legislation, MEPs tried to prevent patents being applied to software by adding restrictions to the scope of the rules. But many of these safeguards were rejected by the Council in May.

The strength of opposition among MEPs to the May agreement is so strong that some parliamentarians have attempted to employ rarely used procedures to start the whole legislative process from scratch as a means of preventing the Council getting its way.

Opposition to the Council’s views is strongest among Parliament’s 42 Green MEPs but there is also support for their position from across the political spectrum.

However, two attempts to restart the whole process (launched by the Greens and another led by Polish MEPs) failed due to a lack of political support.

NoSoftwarePatents.com’s Mueller said that the real disappointment in the affair was that MEPs who were opposed to software patents had failed to back these attempts and had taken the same position as parliamentarians in favour of the patentability of software.