updated 3/7/2005 4:57:31 PM ET 2005-03-07T21:57:31

European Union governments gave their support Monday to a much-delayed bill backed by big high-tech companies aiming to promote software innovation.

The draft bill, however, is set to meet stiff opposition from the European Parliament which threw out the proposal only last month saying it was not good enough, putting into question the fate of the legislation.

The proposal approved by EU research and industry ministers, sets rules allowing software that is part of a mechanical device — such as a mobile phone — to be patented. It is now slated to go back to the EU assembly for a second reading. It is uncertain if the parliament will vote for the bill, or demand further changes.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had threatened to scrap the entire proposal, which is meant to harmonize patent law on software across the 25-nation bloc, if EU governments did not end their delay in approving the bill.

McCreevy said he would now “engage constructively” with EU governments and the parliament to try and reach a compromise.

“I will work to make sure these concerns are taken into account in the interest of a balanced result,” McCreevy said.

In the Parliament, Green Party leader Monica Frassoni called the EU government’s decision “a slap in the face” for Europe’s software industry and for lawmakers.

“Ministers have ignored the will of the Parliament,” Frassoni said in a statement, adding the decision had “created a serious institutional conflict.”

She said the bill as passed favored big software companies like U.S. giant Microsoft, “and betrayed the interests of Europe’s software developers.”

At the opening of their session in Strasbourg, France, EU lawmakers voted to put the issue up for urgent debate on Tuesday, demanding answers from the European Commission and EU governments.

Debate over the bill has divided those who say patents are needed to reward companies for innovation and opponents who argue that it would stifle innovation by shutting out smaller companies from open-source software.

Parliament leaders unanimously decided to scrap the bill arguing it favored large corporations like Microsoft Corp., which hold many patents.

Supporters of the bill said it struck a compromise harmonizing national patent laws on so-called “computer-implemented inventions,” within Europe, while stopping short of the U.S. system that allows patenting of business methods or computer programs such as Amazon.com Inc.’s “one-click” shopping technique.

Monday’s decision was welcomed by the Computing Technology Industry Association, a Chicago-based umbrella group for the global IT industry.

“It’s a cornerstone of the whole ... process, to enhance further progress of technological innovation in Europe,” said Hugo Lueders, CompTIA’s European public policy director.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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