EU: Prison over Infringement?

Thu, 15 Dec 2005 10:19:00 EST

"For once, declared adversaries are on the same side of an argument in the technology industry: They are urging European lawmakers to drop legislation that would impose prison time on patent violators, which they say would stifle innovation across Europe. Heavyweights like Nokia and Microsoft and grass-roots groups like the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure are making common cause against wide-ranging legislation proposed by the European Commission that would criminalize all intellectual property infringements, including patent violations."

"The proposed law would provide blanket protection to all forms of intellectual property across the 25 countries of the Union. A World Trade Organization treaty covering European Union countries allows prison sentences for copyright and trademark infringement, but it does not cover patents, which are variously protected in member countries, mostly by the threat of fines. The European Commission, which is preparing the proposed law for debate in 2006, was emboldened by a ruling by Europe's top court in September that allowed criminal sanctions in enforcing European laws. The intellectual property proposal would be the first Europe-wide law to make use of the new powers. But an early skirmish, drawing opponents from the technology, heavy-industry and drug sectors, is beginning. Tim Frain, director of intellectual property at Nokia, called the inclusion of patents within the scope of a European law "ludicrous." Frain, who is based near London, advises managers at Nokia on the risks of infringing existing patents when they develop new functions for mobile phones. Frain indicated that patent holders wanted protection but not penalties of imprisonment as they tested the boundaries of other patents."


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