Anti-software patent campaigners had a rare moment of harmony with the European Patent Office yesterday, coming out in support of a European Parliament motion of patent harmonisation between Europe and member states.
Both applauded the failure of a motion that would have seen an official move toward mutual recognition of patent laws in national patent offices around Europe. This would have meant that a patent registered in Madrid would automatically be recognised in Lisbon, London and Warsaw.
The idea was waved out of the EU Parliament by a clear show of hands, which the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure and infamous lobbyist Florian Mueller claimed as a victory for the anti-software patent brigade.
The European Patent Office was pleased with the outcome, which it thought would undermine its efforts to increase its own powers.
Aside from that, there was little excitement outside the rather excitable burrows of the anti-IP lobby.
The vote involved the removal of three words from one paragraph in an extensive resolution of the European Parliament. The resolution constituted the EPs advice for the European Council's spring meeting where the Lisbon Strategy (to help the European Union nurture a knowledge economy) will be discussed.
Get it? Even had the offending words "small" and "mutual recognition" been included in the European Parliament's guidance for the council, it would not have had any legislative power over the council's meeting.
Further, the idea was part of a set of recommendations for patent harmonisation that appeared to recognise the possibility that there might be some areas where patents might be best covered by a national office even in a system of harmonised patents.
And let's face it, many in Brussels are getting tired of patent harmonisation being blocked by immovable lobbyists who appear incapable of agreeing with their opponents.
The legislation has failed before because of the inability to agree what languages a European patent should be registered in. If you'll believe that, you'll believe anything. Even the French register their patents in English.
The real reason it keeps failing is purely a matter of national interest. Countries want to keep hold of patent fees (which constitute about a third of the €31,000 spend on the average patent) and national controls.
Charlie McCreevy, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, said the failure to find a harmonious resolution to the patent debate has created much existentialist angst in Europe. He told the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee in November that it was like Waiting for Godot. ®