The European Parliament has been asked to wait for a landmark ruling from the European Court of Justice before voting on a single-patent system for Europe that some organisations fear could hurt software companies.
The issue is on the Parliament's agenda for next week, but a legal opinion from the court is not expected until later this month or even March.
"Software patents hurt innovation and are an unnecessary burden on European software developers," said Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe. "Legislators need to take charge and make sure the patent system contributes to the public good. As the European Patent Organisation has acknowledged, this is a decision that cannot be left to bureaucrats and the judiciary."
The FSFE wants parliamentarians to hear the court's opinion before they vote as the court's advocates-general have already been highly critical of the plan. "The agreement contemplated is, in its current state, incompatible with the treaties," they said. Although not binding, court rulings generally follow the advice of the advocates.
After years of political wrangling, efforts to develop a single EU patent began in 2003, a compromise was proposed by the European Commission last July. And in December, 11 countries agreed to go ahead with a trilingual system based on English, French and German. Another 12 states informally backed it. This left Italy, Spain, Cyprus and the Czech Republic alone in opposition.
These countries and, it appears, the European Court of Justice, believe that in this would disadvantage companies and researchers using other EU languages, particularly in case of legal disputes.
However the current situation, where companies may have to fight legal action in several member states simultaneously, and where national courts regularly come to conflicting conclusions, is also problematic. Filing and protecting patents in Europe is also substantially higher than in the US.
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) and the End Software Patents (ESP) group, have also asked Parliament to wait for the Court ruling before giving approving the enhanced co-operation procedure.