Dutch Parliament Withdraws Support for Software Patents

Friday, July 02 2004 @ 08:55 AM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

The Dutch parliament is making news. It has just withdrawn its vote for the Directive on Software Patents. It's a proof-of-concept vote, you might say, the first time such a move has been taken in the history of the EU, demonstrating that other countries are free to do the same, as we reported on June 22. Here is part of the FFI press release.


01/07/04: Dutch Parliament forces Minister Brinkhorst to withdraw support for software patents directive

Today, July the 1st, the Dutch Parliament has decided to direct Minister Brinkhorst and Secretary of State van Gennip (Economic Affairs) to withdraw the Dutch vote in support of the Council of Ministers' text for the Directive on Software Patents. This is the first time in the history of the EU that such a course of action has been undertaken.

The idea of allowing patents on software has been strongly criticized among SMEs, scientists and consumer organisations. They inhibit investments in Research and Development and contribute to higher prices. Commentators also fear the rise of a "lawyers paradise" in Europe such as is found in the USA, where programmers are constantly threatened by lawsuits.

This act represents an incisive criticism of the European Council of Ministers' attempts to introduce broad patentability of software. Minister Brinkhorst, acting on behalf of the Netherlands, endorsed the
Council's current proposal, which not only reiterated the terms of the Council's strongly criticized first proposal, but went even further, directly rebuffing the clear stance assumed by the EU Parliament, which voted to add numerous amendments which made clear how the category of logical algorithms would be treated.

The European Parliament's version asserted that patents would only be allowed for industrial inventions (e.g. washing machines) and would not be made possible for pure software. All these adaptations were removed in the Council of Ministers' controversial version.

Earlier, Brinkhorst described the Council proposal to the Dutch Parliament as a compromise with the EP. In recent legislative debates,Van Gennip was forced to admit that this was incorrect information, and
attributed it to "an error in the word processor."

The Dutch Parliament apparently didn't buy this explanation and today she rendered an historic and groundbreaking decision, calling upon Minister Brinkhorst and van Gennip to withdraw the Netherland's
supporting vote in the European Council and convert it to an abstention. This measure is possible because at the present moment there is only a "political agreement" and the "formal vote" can only take place after the contested text has been translated into the 20 European Languages. An emergency brake move in the procedure such as this has never been exercised before.

With this decision, the Dutch Parliament demonstrates the active interest her public holds in the debate over software patents, and the recognition and appreciation for the adaptations introduced by the
European Parliament.

Dieter Van Uytvanck, spokesman of FFII Netherlands, stresses the importance of this decision:

"This political signal reaches much further than just The Netherlands. We hope that other European countries that also have their doubts about the proposal of the Council will also withdraw their support, so that the current proposal no longer has a majority. The historic precedent is there now."