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Software Developpers Rally Around EU Parliament
The Brussels demo is accompanied by two days of conferences in the European Parliament. The FFII hopes that it will spark off a series of similar events in national capitals during the period before the elections of the European Parliament from June 10 to June 13. Moreover, during this period netizens are called to block access to their websites and instead point to protest pages. Similar actions in August and September 2003, termed "the 2003 Patent Riots" by US PC Magazine commentator John Dvorak, had attracted 500 participants from all over Europe in Brussels and struck a chord of resonance with scientists and software companies. A combination of elaborate argumentation with a groundswell of public opinion ultimately persuaded a majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from all political groups to vote for clear limitations on patentability.
Anonymous Patent Officials Dictating Scope of Patent System
However the EU Parliament alone can not pass laws. It needs the support of the Commission and the Council of Ministers. In the latter, effective power is in the hands of ministerial bureaucrats from national government who are often affiliated with special interest communities. In the case of the software patent directive, the members of the Council's "Working Party on Intellectual Property (Patents)" consists of exactly those patent experts who, in another institutional setting, run the European Patent Office. On September 23rd 2003, the day before the European Parliament's vote, EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein threatened the Parliament that it would lose its influence on European patent legislation if it went against the will of the Council. The Council, Bolkestein warned, would simply scrap the directive and pursue its own policy outside the EU, in the inter-governmental framework of the European Patent Organisation (EPO), far removed from all parliamentary control.
After the Parliament defied Bolkestein's threats, Bolkestein's directorate soon circulated a secret document among member governments in which it discredits the Parliament's vote on the basis of formalistic arguments and false assertions. This encouraged the national patent experts in the EU Council's "Working Party on Intellectual Property (Patents)" to press ahead with a secret proposal for unlimited patentability, of which a yet undivulged follow-up document was produced on 2004-03-17 (last wednesday). A final version could be decided by the ministers (EU Competitivity Council) in May and then presented to a new European Parliament for a second reading under more restrictive rules in autumn after, after the June elections. The Parliament can then only vote against the Council with an absolute majority of all members (not only the present ones), knowing that this vote will lead to the withdrawal of the directive and the decision of matters by the governmental patent officials of the Council among themselves, in the framework of the EPO.
The Council Working Party is careful to conceal which government advocated what. Upon inquiry, most governments say that they are being pushed toward unlimited patentability by the other governments.
Conferences in Brussels and Berkeley
FFII formulated its concerns in a Call for Action which has received support from numerous members of the European Parliament, associations, companies and individuals, many of whom are expected to voice their concerns at the press conference in Brussels on April 14th.
The two-day events overlap with a conference at Berkeley University in California, USA, about new reports by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Academy of Sciences which point out that software patents are stifling innovation and call for patent reform.
The Association Electronique Libre protects the fundamental liberties in the information society by spreading the following ideas: free software, liberty of expression, respect for privacy, the right for anonymity, free access to information, usage of open and free standards and in the electronic world.
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) is a non-profit organization based in Munich. It works on the impact of data processing on the society. FFII encourages the development of informational infrastructure on based on copyrights, free competition and open standards. More than 300 members, 700 companies and 50,000 supporters have endorsed FFII to promote their interests in the domain of software rights.
The Eurolinux Alliance is an open coalition of commercial companies and non-profit organisations united for promoting and protecting a European computing culture based on copyright, open standards, free competition and "open source" systems such as Linux.