The EU could see the introduction of software patent wars seen in the US if it continues with plans for a ‘unitary patent’.
According to Richard Matthew Stallman, writing at the Guardian, there is a very real danger that software patents could be enforced across the whole of Europe (with the exceptions of Italy and Spain), should the unitary patent system go ahead.
The introduction of such patents would have the potential to be highly detrimental to the development of software, and the recent Hargreaves Report urged strongly against them.
However as Stallman says there are concerns that under EU plans the European Patent Office would be given the green light to issue software patents that would be valid automatically in many European states.
This would then mean that none of the affected nations would be able to escape the patents without going to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in Europe.
Even if patents were rejected, appeals against the EPO’s decision would be based on the EPO’s own rules, so would likely lead to all sorts of hijinx with businesses in Europe.
The EPO has already issued many patents, but currently they are only valid as and when a nation decides to enforce – and are not all linked and enforced on EU-wide basis.
According to Stallman, if the unitary patent system is adopted and the “EPO gets unchecked power to decide” then it is likely that “Europe will get US-style patent wars”.
An industry insider close to TechEye told us that Stallman’s approach is not necessarily the best course of action to avoid a software patent nightmare.
“If RMS wants to do away with software patents in Europe, which are granted on a daily basis and upheld by the courts in major EU members tates such as the UK and Germany, he should push for a piece of legislation that excludes software from the patent system or that makes patents unenforceable against programmers and software publishers.”
“That kind of initiative wouldn't be any more or less likely to succeed based on the unitary patent.”