updated 3/8/2005 4:19:30 PM ET 2005-03-08T21:19:30

The European Commission will not propose a new law on the patenting of computer-related inventions if the European Parliament rejects the current controversial proposal, a top official said on Tuesday.

“If the parliament decides to reject it, then the Commission will respect your wishes. I will not propose a new directive,” EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told lawmakers.

“You can of course reject or substantially amend the proposal,” he said.

European Union ministers endorsed the disputed proposal on Monday , which critics say could stifle software development.

That decision is seen as a boost for advocates of patenting some computer software, notably big firms such as Microsoft and Nokia, but it is a blow for smaller software firms that fear they could be pushed out of the market.

The draft bill needs the backing of the European Parliament to become law and could undergo substantive changes as many lawmakers are seeking to amend the bill to favor small firms.

“The ball is in your court. I’m sure that you will exercise your rights and your judgement wisely,” McCreevy told members of the European Parliament.

Critics of the legislation say it would harm small software developers who lack big companies’ legal muscle. Some also fear it would restrict the amount of so-called open source software available for free.

Advocates of the bill argue current laws do not allow firms to protect expensive inventions that take years to develop.

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