All the EU countries have different laws on what software is and is not patentable. This is a nightmare for licensing, where the legal position must be worked out country-by-country. The EU wants to harmonise all these to a single, workable legal position. Great idea and long overdue.
The problem is, the Council of Ministers and the EU Commissioners got nobbled by big business, and were persuaded to harmonise everything at the corporate monopoly end of the scale - somewhat on the Americal model. Bad for the little guy, bad for free software, and bad for innovation.
Accordingly they drew up a Software Patents Directive and have been trying to get it rubber-stamped using every low-down trick in the book, such as tacking it onto the back of an agricultural (or was it fisheries?) approvals session.
A tremendous rearguard action has been fought by the European Parliament (who, unlike the others, were actually elected to their positions), together with the support of a few "rogue" nations of which Poland is outstanding.
The next step is for the Directive to go back to the Parliament for a second vote, and no doubt lots more arguing and attempted amendments.
The core issue is over what is or is not an innovative "technical contribution". For example is the idea of hyperlinks or of pop-up menus a "technical contribution" or are these just obvious ways to use the existing technology? Where do we draw the line, and how do we make this clear?
We don't want the American system, where a patent clerk recently gained a patent on a "circular transportation device comprsing a rigid rim attached via tension members to a central bearing ...", in other words the wheel! (He did this to show up the absurdities of the American system, he is not expecting RMS to walk to work from now on).
The final deal is anything but clear - the Commissioners would probably bow to the Council of Ministers, and while some of them may be beginning to see reason, we would need a majority to change their approach, and you know how fickle and money-hungry such politicians can be ...
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