Show Sidebar Log in

German Parliament tells government to apply strict limits to software patents

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) reports that on 7th June the German Parliament (Bundestag) passed a joint motion to limit software patents (PDF, German).

The Bundestag is urging the German Government to take steps to limit the granting of patents on computer programs. Software should be covered exclusively by copyright and the rights of copyright holders should not be devalued by third parties’ software patents. The only exception where software patents should be allowed are computer programs which replace a mechanical or electromagnetic component. In addition, the Bundestag stressed that government actions in relation to patents must never interfere with the legality of distributing free software.

“This is an important step to fix the software patent insanity. The FSFE greatly welcomes this decision. It’s great to see that all of Germany’s major parties understand that software patents are a huge problem and that they are acting accordingly,” said Matthias Kirschner, FSFE’s co-ordinator for Germany.

Tens of thousands of software patents in Germany and Europe present enormous cost and liability risks, especially for SMEs. Several German SME associations welcomed the Parliament’s decision. However, they warn against giving all the responsibility to Brussels, as the EU has been
consistently incapable of providing software developers with legal certainty. “Germany now has to implement this decision in law, to send a strong signal towards Brussels,” said Johannes Sommer of BIKT, the German Information & Communications Technology Association.

At an expert meeting in the Bundestag on 13th May, BIKT and fellow industry association BITMi proposed changes to German copyright and patent law. These proposals would also affect software patents that have already been granted. The first proposal is to add a “protective shield” clause to German copyright law, introducing a blanket ban on the enforcement of software patent claims. The second proposal to be implemented in German patent law makes provision that the effect of patent claims shall not be extended to works protected independently by copyright. Both proposals would prevent software patents being enforced against software developers.