Pan European patent plan receives qualified support

Plans to create a pan European patent system have received a boost from the European Parliament but politicians remain worried about the cost of patents and accountability of a Europe-wide patent office.

Internal markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had compromised on his original proposal in order to get it through the Parliament, and his plan was amended further as the Parliament voted to authorise further discussions.

McCreevy had proposed a European Patent Litigation Agreement which would create a European Patent Court which would supercede national courts. Critics argued that the court would take control of patent policy out of the hands of the elected European Parliament and put it into the hands of unelected officials. Critics worry that the EPLA could make software patents more common.

Ten days ago a compromise text was adopted by some of the major political groups within the European Parliament and it was this text which was passed by the Parliament. It allows for talks on the EPLA to continue but does not endorse all of McCreevy's plans.

As well as having fears about accountability, politicians also worried about the potential for the plans to increase the cost of patents, which could discourage smaller companies to protect their inventions.

The text passed by the Parliament criticised the plans and asked for further clarification.The Parliament, it said, "considers that the proposed [EPLA] text needs significant improvements, which address concerns about democratic control, judicial independence and litigation costs, and a satisfactory proposal for the Rules of Procedure of the EPLA Court."

"The good news is that the Parliament is the first institution to have raised major objections concerning the draft EPLA in its present form," said Florian Mueller, an activist opposed to software patents. "The bad news is that the Parliament stopped short of throwing a spanner in the EPLA works, and we yet have to find the first political body to oppose the EPLA in stronger terms."

The compromise text which MEPs adopted was proposed by a coalition of political groupings. The conservative EPP-ED, the social democratic PES and the libertarian ALDE agreed on the text. Between them the parties control around 550 of the Parliament's 732 seats. The adoption of the text was passed in the end by 494 votes to 109.

"Nobody can seriously claim victory or concede defeat based on today's parliamentary decision, which keeps all options open for the future," said Mueller of the decision.