The subject of software patents remains a complex and controversial one and in July 2005 the EU Software Patent Directive, a draft law that was 3 years in the making to provide a consistent and coherent approach to the granting of patents within the EU, was rejected by the European Parliament with a majority vote of 648 to 14.
Although software patents were already being granted prior to this proposed legislation, there were concerns regarding the approaches and interpretations of patent eligibility for “computer-implemented inventions” taken by different countries. As a result of this, there was also an issue that some national patent offices appeared to be processing higher number of patents than others in relation to software inventions and innovations. In the eyes of the voters the directive was unable to achieve a balance between the restrictions that would be needed for an EU wide approach and the improvements offered against existing legislation supporting new innovations within the industry. Following the bill’s rejection the European Commission expressed its concerns that without a suitable framework in place these variances would continue, and others expressed this had the potential to prove damaging to technology companies in the competitive and fast moving software market.
With much public debate and lobbying taking place concerning software patents a large number of technology companies welcomed the decision to vote against the directive, happy to continue to apply for patents under the existing procedures in order to protect their software developments. Concerns had been raised that the bill would prove too restrictive slowing down the process of granting patents, and could also lead to issues surrounding small organisations seeking to protect their developments, in addition to having a negative effect for open source developers restricting or prohibiting the distribution of free software.
There was disappointment for those who had supported the aims of the directive in establishing a common procedure across Europe, concerns were voiced regarding the ongoing lack of judiciary control and development in the software patent process. Patents for software remain a minefield of defining what is software, pure software and inventions that rely on software with the complex nature of existing software and new innovations.
Whilst patent reform might be welcomed by some many remain against patentability for software, standing firm on the belief that software is different, software is math which is not patentable and that its copyright alone provides sufficient protection for its authors.