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EU Rejects Software Patents Directive

The European Parliament has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to create a single method of patenting software within the European Union. Commonly referred to as the software patents directive, the proposal had been massively amended during negotiations, and had losing ground within the EU community since its introduction in 2001. The bill would not have permitted so-called “pure software” to be patented, but would have covered computerized inventions such as cell phones, medical scanners, and other systems to be patented if the software made a innovative “technical contribution” to the state of the art. Algorithm and procedure could not be patented under the defeated proposal, but a unique invention or application of that algorithm would have been eligible.

Corporate giants such as Siemens, Nokia, and Alcatel advocated for the bill, saying consistent patent protection within the EU would foster research and development. Small businesses and open-source advocates argued the bill would stifle software development and make the legal costs of defending product patents impossible for all but the largest businesses.

With the proposal’s defeat, patent regulation within the EU falls back to patent offices within the member nations and to the European Patent Office (EPO), a non-EU agency created in 1973. National patent office regulations vary widely, and EPO regulations have not been interpreted consistently.

The proposal would not have extended patent protections as far as current U.S. law, which currently permits the patenting of business methods and computer programs, such as Amazon.com‘s famously patented One-Click ordering system.