The European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected a proposed law yesterday to create a single way of patenting software across the European...

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STRASBOURG, France — The European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected a proposed law yesterday to create a single way of patenting software across the European Union, calling instead for comprehensive rules for granting patents to inventions in all fields.

The vote, 648-14 with 18 abstentions, was a defeat for big companies, which had pushed for adoption of the bill. Businesses as well as free-software advocates had engaged in massive lobbying campaigns.

The bill would have given companies EU-wide patent protection for computerized inventions ranging from programs for complex CT scanners to anti-lock braking systems. The protection would have extended to computer programs when the software is used in the context of realizing inventions.

But lawmakers said the measure would stifle enterprise and did not promote innovation, and that human knowledge can’t be patented. The move kills the legislation since the EU head office, which drafted it, does not plan to set forth a new version.

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“Patents will continue to be handled by national patent offices … which means different interpretations as to what is patentable, without any judiciary control by the European Court of Justice,” said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, representing the EU head office at the vote.

It also underlines growing institutional gridlock, with the elected European Parliament trying to assert itself against the unelected European Commission — the EU’s executive office — and national governments.

The French and Dutch rejection of a proposed European constitution called into question attempts to push through more EU-wide plans to revive the bloc’s ailing economies.

In addition to the software patent law, these include a plan to spend more on research and development and another to remove barriers on service providers working outside their home country.

“Europe is going through a crisis, in large part because of a democratic deficit,” said Michel Rocard, the former French prime minister charged with steering the parliament debate on the issue. “There is collective anger, unanimous anger over the unacceptable way this has been handled by the Commission and EU Council” representing the EU governments.

EU legislators say questions of patentability can only be solved in a wider framework, rather than field by field.

“The EU must come forward with one single community patent. In this way, the current lengthy, burdensome and costly system of patent registration and approval can be tackled effectively in order to strengthen the global competitive position of the EU,” said Liberal Democratic deputy Toine Manders.

Companies such as Nokia and Siemens AG had said the software bill would give them incentives to invest in research and development.

Open-source advocates, however, said individuals and small businesses could be bankrupted by expensive legal battles with software giants over fuzzy patent law.