Tuesday, 4 April 2006
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Question 323: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the proposed community patents scheme; his further views on whether programmes for computers should be excluded from the proposed scheme on the basis of the financial, legal and innovative difficulties that it would cause for persons and small and medium-sized enterprises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13422/06]
Question 324: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on whether the proposed patenting of computer programmes will cause enormous difficulties for small and medium-sized enterprises which will be unable to obtain or defend a software patent; the position of the Government in respect of Article 52, Chapter 1 of Part II of the European Patent Convention, that programmes for computers are not regarded as inventions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13423/06]
I propose to take Questions 323 and 324 together.
Ireland has been party to the European Patent Convention since 1992 and our law reflects its Article 52 criteria on the patentability of inventions. The convention makes it clear that computer programmes, as such, cannot be patented but it is important to note that this does not extend to so-called "computer implemented inventions". These are patentable in certain circumstances and many thousands of such patents have already been granted by the European Patent Office and apply within the EU. The revision of the convention does not change the patentability criteria with regard to these inventions.
The European Commission proposal for a Council regulation on a Community patent in August 2000 envisaged Community patents being granted by the European Patent Office and that the EU would itself accede to the European Patent Convention. All EU member states, except Malta, are already contracting states. The Community patent would, in effect, be a European patent designating the Community but, unlike European patents, it would be unitary in character and relate to the entirety of the Community. The intention was that this would co-exist with the national and European patent systems already in place.
While the EU competitiveness council unanimously agreed on a common political approach on the Community patent in March 2003, progress on this has since been deadlocked on issues to do with translations and no breakthrough is in sight. Against this background, the Commission sought views this January from industry and other stakeholders on how best to take account of stakeholders' needs in patent policy. The proposal for a Community patent remains a priority, but the Commission is also seeking views on what other measures could be taken in the near future to improve the patent system in Europe.
In 2002 the European Commission proposed a directive to harmonise the conditions for patenting computer-implemented inventions. It was concerned that practice on granting such patents varied between EU member states and that particular inventions could get protection in one member state but not in another. Ireland supported the proposal as offering increased certainty on intellectual property right protection and as reinforcing the single EU internal market. While the measure had wide support from the European information and communications technology industry, including the small and medium-sized enterprises sector, in the event, the European Parliament opposed it. The current situation is that the European Commission has indicated that it does not intend to pursue proposals for a directive in this area.