Something seems to be going on in the European Union. Over the next few weeks a range of really important debates and votes are taking place, all connected with openness in some way. Quite why everything is happening at once is not entirely clear – unless politicians are trying to get everything out of the way before their summer hols, perhaps....
First up, of course is ACTA. As you will know by now, the big vote takes place next week, following the rejection of ACTA by five important parliamentary committees. Given the importance of what ought to be the definitive European decision on ACTA, I will of course be writing more about this in the next seven days. Suffice it to say that even at this late stage some amazing things are crawling out of the woodwork that MEPs need to be made aware of.
Some readers may recall an epic battle that took place back in 2005, when the European Commission attempted to introduce software patents in Europe. This is despite the fact that they are explicitly excluded in the European Patent Convention. Against the odds, we won back then:
The European Parliament rejected the proposed computer-implemented inventions patent directive by 648 votes to 14, with 18 abstentions. If passed, the legislation would have given software patent owners harmonised EU-wide protection for their inventions, with unified standards across the 25 Member States, say its supporters, including the Commission which originally introduced the proposal to EU lawmakers.
But the big software companies and their lobbyists don't give up. Recognising that it was unlikely they could push through the same kind of directive at a later date, over the last five years they have been working on a completely different approach, the Unitary, or EU patent:
In March 2011 the EU Council, with the support of the European Parliament, took a landmark decision to allow 25 EU member states to establish a unitary patent system under the "enhanced co-operation" scheme. Unitary patents will be valid across the territory of the participating countries. This should pave the way for a true supranational patent system in Europe, something that has been discussed for decades and eagerly awaited by industry.
Sounds totally reasonable, doesn't it? But one completely unmentioned consequence of the current proposal is that it would be easy for the European Patent Office to allow software patents officially, and not just through the back door. I'll be giving details on this, and what we can do about it very soon – along with ACTA, fighting the software patent threat is a priority.
Long-suffering readers will recall that over the last few months I spent quite a lot of time and electrons discussing the battle for open standards in the UK. This boiled down to whether the UK government's definition of open standards should be licensed under FRAND or restriction free terms. Well, guess what? While that fight was going on in Blighty, another one was taking place in Brussels. To my shame, I only found out about this recently; things are looking bad, and there's not much time to do anything about it.
By an amazing coincidence (or not), the issue is the same: should standards be licensed under FRAND or RF terms? This time, though, the current draft plumps for FRAND, with RF as optional. Again, I'll be going into details here in an imminent post.
Finally, it seems that something bad is happening to the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme that I wrote about at the end of last year. One important feature of the proposed research programme for the EU was requiring open access to work generated using taxpayers' monies. But now it seems that idea is under threat, which means we need to remind MEPs why open access is important and must be safeguarded.
So, as you can see, there's a huge amount going on in the world of EU openness – with lots of potential for bad outcomes. Over the next few days I'll be suggesting ways we can try to stop that happening.