The European Parliament has voted in favour of a law that limits the scope for patents on software programs.
Its proposals must still be debated and voted on by EU member states in November before it becomes law.
Votes cast tallied 364 voting in favour, 153 against and 33 abstentions. Several amendments to the original proposal were passed. MEPs agreed to one which outlaws the patenting of algorithms. Another explicitly outlaws the patenting of business methods, such as the "one-click" shopping technology patented in the US by Amazon.com.
"Inventions involving computer programs which implement business, mathematical or other methods and do not produce any technical effect beyond the normal physical interactions between a program and the computer, network or other programmable apparatus in which it is run, shall not be patentable," the amendment reads.
UK Socialist Party MEP Arlene McCarthy said the Parliament has a clear message: "We do want strict limits on patentability of software. All the amendments that were adopted were in this direction," she said. "We have effectively rewritten the directive."
She said that she expects the proposals to be rejected by the 15 member state governments and by the directive's original author, the European Commission.
"They will probably say we have gone too far in restricting software patents," she said.
"I tried to balance the various interests here with a text that doesn't undermine the obvious need for patent protection for real inventions, while averting a slide towards the more liberal patent regime in the US," McCarthy said.
The European Commission gave a guarded response to the vote in the European Parliament, its spokesman for internal market affairs Jonathan Todd said the proposal would be looked at, but warned of a danger that member states could cut the European Parliament out of the lawmaking process by scrapping the directive and revising the existing legal base for Europe's patent regime, the Munich Patent Convention.
The latter is a patchwork of national interpretations of the Patent Convention. One of the aims of the EU directive was to harmonize the approach to patents across the European Union.
McCarthy said scrapping the directive would be a bad outcome for the software industry. "The existing regime is supposed to outlaw business method patents, but some are being approved. Without an EU-wide law there will always be a danger that European law slides towards the law in the US," she said.