MANHASSET, N.Y. Just hours after Bill Gates met with members of the EU Parliament in Brussels, they delivered a stinging rebuke to Microsoft's European software-patent policy.
Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee voted to restart the legislative process on patents.
The earlier patent policy could have introduced widespread patenting of software in the EU a policy favored by Microsoft and other large companies with large software-patent portfolios. The MEPs' action means the whole issue of software patents will be restarted in a process that could take years to resolve.
"This works in our favor," said Florian Mueller, who spearheaded the effort to restart the patents process. "Small- and medium-sized software companies wrote their MEPs. Now we can mobilize more companies to join our campaign." Mueller, who is campaign manager of the NoSoftwarePatents.com organization, said the group will move from a defensive stance it opposed the older patent policy to an offensive posture, in which it will seek to gather support for its position on patents.
Bill Gates met with Parliament members Tuesday (Feb. 1), and media reports said he didn't raise the patents issue. He ducked discussing the subject when an members queried him about it. However, Microsoft's lobbyists in Brussels had been campaigning for the older patent proposal that was sidetracked by the members after the meeting with Gates.
The Parliment's action means that the EU will be asked to rewrite Europe's Computer Implemented Inventions Directive. Patents are extremely complex in Europe to begin with many individual companies have their own patent systems and many patents in Europe don't coincide with U.S. patents.
"Now this will be a marathon and not a sprint," said Mueller, whose organization is supported by open-source companies Red Hat and MySQL AB. The third sponsor is 1&1, a large German ISP.
Media reports said 19 members had favored restarting the patent process, while two voted to continue the earlier process. One abstained.
Mueller noted that many large companies, including Microsoft, Nokia, Ericsson, and Alcatel, had supported the earlier patent proposal. He noted that the first opposition to the proposal came from Poland and has begun to build slowly.