German study rejects software patents for Europe

A study commissioned by the German Ministry of Economics and Technology has recommended that software patents, which are legal in the U.S., should not be allowed in Europe.

The experts warned that a high rate of innovation, interoperability, and the continued development of the open-source model would be jeopardized if Europe adopted a rule allowing the widespread patenting of computer programs, the ministry said in a statement released Thursday.

European Commission officials are expected to unveil soon a draft law harmonizing software patent regulations within the European Union, which remain a patchwork of different rules among the 15 member states. Current E.U. regulations forbid the patenting of software on a European level, a position fiercely defended by activists on the continent.

The German experts, from the renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Patent, Copyright and Competition Law, surveyed 263 German enterprises and individual developers in the software area, and compared patent law in the Europe, the U.S., and Japan.

Even under the more restrictive European patent practice, the study authors called for reforms increasing the efficiency of the patent process, and lowering costs for smaller and medium-sized enterprises. Many of these companies have complained that the expense of registering patents gives an unfair advantage to large corporations.

The researchers called, however, for a rapid harmonization of patent law on the E.U. level, "even, if possible, at the level of the World Trade Organization."

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