Tech sector presses for patents law

30 Jun 2005

With the vote on the long-awaited European Patents Directive looming next week, the Irish high-tech sector has gone into overdrive in its efforts to muster support for the law.

A delegation led by ICT Ireland and IBEC yesterday called on the main political parties to ask their MEPs to support the directive.

Speaking at the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, ICT Ireland director Kathryn Raleigh said it was imperative there was support for the proposed Common Position on the Directive on the Patentability of Computer Implemented Inventions – the CII or Patents Directive – in the upcoming European Parliament Plenary (6-8 July).

If approved, the directive would mean a single patent would need only by filed in any EU country once for it to be recognised throughout the entire EU. This would also apply to defending patents against attack: this could be done in one jurisdiction, not all 25 – something that would work in favour of SMEs in particular, Raleigh argued. “At the moment when you defend a patent you have to defend it in 25 countries, which puts the small business at a disadvantage to larger ones.”

A delegation consisting of Microsoft and two high-tech SMEs — Ceatec Solutions and CP3 Group — joined Raleigh to present their views on the directive to the Joint Committee and to outline the importance of this directive in terms of incentivising research, development and innovation. The delegation is supported by a working group of companies, which includes Storm Technology, Aircraft Management Technologies, Telcotec and Intel. This group has been lobbying Irish MEPs hard over the past week.

“This directive, if agreed in Europe, will harmonise the patenting requirements, which have been in existence for the past two decades. The directive does not aim to change the existing patenting requirements but will instead make it less expensive and complex for companies to protect their inventions,” Raleigh told the committee.

The group informed the committee that the patents directive was just as important for small companies as larger ones and presented them with a list of more than 300 technology inventions that had been filed by Irish SMEs in the past eight years. The list, compiled from the European Patent Office, is the first of its kind to be published by ICT Ireland.

“It’s not just about large companies. A lot of SMEs are also interested in protecting their inventions. That’s why we published this list, to show that Irish SMEs have been filing patents for the past two decades,” said Raleigh.

She added: “Within the high-tech sector, patents provide incentives for companies – large and small – to undertake research and innovation. Patents level the playing pitch for small companies competing against and doing business with a larger technology company by insuring their intellectual property is protected.”

Last week, the Irish Software Association (ISA) added its voice to the pro-directive lobby, saying it was vital to the future of indigenous tech firms. Said ISA chairwoman Bernie Cullinan: “This is an important issue for the indigenous software industry in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. They invest money in R&D and the patentable inventions they create are the lifeblood of many companies. The ability to patent just once and protect that patent at least in Europe is critical to the economic viability of European firms going forward.”

Following next week’s vote, the directive will go back to the European Commission for final ratification. If passed, the directive will be published in the Official Journal and a timetable set out for it to be transposed into national law. It is understood that the whole process is likely to take months rather than weeks.

By Brian Skelly