McCreevy: patents battle not over

22 Jul 2005

Despite the voting down of the EU Patents Directive in the European Parliament a fortnight ago, Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said he was committed to strengthening intellectual property rights (IPR) around technological innovation.

Addressing representatives of the high-tech industry at an ICT Ireland and Irish Software Association (ISA) meeting in Dublin this morning, McCreevy said the European Commission “had to respect” the democratic decision of the European Parliament and that no further attempts would be made to resurrect the Computer Implemented Inventions (CII) Directive. Instead, he said, he would look to push through the stalled Community Patent proposal, which was first tabled by the Commission back in 1999 but whose progress has been impeded by squabbles over language provision and what he termed “vested interests”.

He felt the Community Patent – a pan-European patent system – would allow Europe to catch up in the race in innovation relative to the US.

McCreevy made it clear, however, that the commission did not want to see another piece of IPR legislation torpedoed by the parliament and thus it would only support legislation he was confident would succeed. “I’m reluctant to start off a proposal unless I’m sure that it’ll end up having some good economic benefit.”

He added: “The commission has left its proposal on the table because the stakes are too high to throw in the towel. I’ll make one last push but only when the time is right,” he said.

The commissioner also gave a telling insight into the inner workings of the modern-day EU legislative machine. He described how the patents directive, which was an attempt to harmonise the patenting regime across Europe, changed dramatically in form, from when it was first discussed in 2002 to its final nemesis in the European Parliament, as member states and lobbying groups succeeded in gaining concessions and amendments. Given that the final legislation to be voted on bore little resemblance to the initial proposal, support for it ebbed away and its opponents and disenchanted supporters ended up in the same camp.

In an unambiguous message to the Irish ICT industry about the importance of effective lobbying of the European Parliament, McCreevy said the rules of the game in Europe had changed and that the balance of power in Europe had shifted vis-à-vis the commission and the parliament. “I don’t think it’s widely appreciated in every member state that co-decision is part of every decision-making process now. That’s the way things are going.”

Also speaking at the meeting was Bernadette Cullinan, chairwoman of the Irish Software Association, who said research and development was critical to the future success of the Irish economy. Underlining the importance of IPR for the software sector, she added: “We must continue investing in innovation and know that there is protection for that investment.”

Speaking to afterwards, Kathryn Raleigh, director of ICT Ireland said she welcomed McCreevy’s support for the community patent. “I’d look to the commission to resurrect the directive and would hope that if the time is right the member states would support it.”

By Brian Skelly