The German Parliament recently issued a motion calling upon the German Government to place limitations on the scope of the software patents that it grants.  You can see a translation of it here courtesy of BIKT – a German ICT trade association.

Among other things, the motion calls for a definition of “technical” to be formulated, and “to restrict patent law protection to software supportable teachings in which the computer program serves merely as a replaceable equivalent for a mechanical or electromechanical component, as is the case, for instance, when software based washing machine controls can replace an electromechanical program control unit consisting of revolving cylinders which activate the control circuits for the specific steps of the wash cycle”.

I have some reservations about these aspects – not in principle but in practice.  A clearer definition of what is and what is not patentable would be welcome, but it seems to me that these types of definitions might simply provide different terms that are equally unclear in practice.

It will be interesting to see what the German government does with this proposal – it has not entered law yet and is presumably subject to debate and amendment.  Whatever happens I think this motion is part of a slowly growing trend for various governments of the world trying to tackle the issue of software patents.

And of course any changes made in Germany will eventually have an effect for European level harmonisation in this area, either directly or indirectly, so it’s an interesting one to watch.