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A European Parliament committee approved a much-delayed legislative proposal creating a single way of patenting software innovations throughout the European Union, a decision seen as a victory for big high-tech companies. The 26-member Legal Affairs Committee agreed late Monday that companies can enjoy European Union-wide patent protection for high-tech inventions such as washing machines, cellular phones or ABS car-braking systems so long as they make a new technical contribution to further innovation in a particular field of technology. The bill, which still faces several reviews by the full 732-member EU assembly and EU governments, was approved by 16 votes to 10 in the committee. The proposed patent protection would also extend to computer programs, but only when the software is used in the context of realizing inventions. For example, car makers would be able to patent software that improves the working of their anti-lock braking systems. But the bill stops 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, which aims to give consumers a quick purchasing system to buy books and other goods on its Web site. The committee rejected the vast majority of more than 250 amendments tabled by deputies that would have made it more difficult for companies to patent software-related inventions. The bill will be voted on by the entire parliament in July, before going to EU member states for a review. The legislation, which has been under discussion for five years, had already been rejected by the parliament once and sent to the European Commission for redrafting. Debate over the bill has divided those who say patents are needed to reward companies for innovation and opponents, mostly smaller companies, who are concerned that they’d be shut out of software they had until now been able to use free of charge. Big industry groups have argued that patent protection would provide incentives for companies to invest in research and development. Companies such as BMW, Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. have lobbied hard for the bill. The European Commission has made the patent law an essential part of its economic reform program. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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