Using its muscle like never before, the European Parliament has thrown out a controversial bill to harmonise patents on software. This was in the face of a united position of the 25 member states. Such a rejection at only the second reading for the EU legislature was unprecedented. The assembly was too divided to muster the absolute majority needed to amend the bill; And so the lawmakers decided 648 votes to 14 to kill it. The European Commission warned that the result would cause fragmentation among 25 competing patenting systems in Europe.
The bill’s main handler in parliament, Michel Rocard, said: “The argument which brought about such a broad-based and firm decision to reject was the parliament’s wish to send the member states and the Commission a strong signal: don’t keep treating parliament in this way.” Advocates for free software had feared the Directive on the Patentability of Computer Implemented Inventions would choke innovation… that this would let big firms patent software that small operators feel should be publicly available. But both sides drew some comfort from the outcome. A leading policy voice among the main big firms said that at least innovators’ intellectual property protection was still in place, which is critical for European competitiveness. One supporter of free software and small developers said reverting to the current system was better than having to accept a bad bill.