By mid-year, the European Commission will propose legislation granting patent protection to computer programs across the European Union, a Commission official said last week.
"Currently, 13,000 patents out of the total 70,000 filed each year [with the European Patent Office in Munich] touch on computer programs," a Commission official who asked not to be identified said at a press briefing.
The proposal would harmonise national rules and practices to allow software companies to obtain effective patent protection. "We want to clarify what can and cannot be patented," the official said.
Although software is already protected by copyright laws, the parallel app-lication of patent protection could help com-bat counterfeiting or illegal copying, the Commission official said. The US and Japan already provide computer programs with patent protection. Each year US companies file about 12,000 patent applications covering software, according to the Commission.
Most EU member states have ruled that software programs are not patentable as such, but that the technical invention that uses the program is, according to the Commission.
Later in the year the European Commission will also propose legislation to introduce a Community-wide patent that would enable companies to make one application to obtain a patent valid throughout the 15 member states.