The vote on a highly controversial proposed European Union (EU) law on software patents has once again been postponed, a parliament official said Monday.

A presentation of the draft legislation on the "patentability of computer-implemented inventions" by European Parliament member Arlene McCarthy was to have opened the Parliament's session on Monday, but has been pushed back until the next plenary meeting of the European Parliament during the week beginning September 22. No specific reason was given for the delay.

Storm of protest Efforts to standardize patents across Europe for computer-implemented inventions, which include software, have provoked protest from two polarized camps. Open source and free software groups contend that copyright laws are enough to protect business innovations and want patents to be outlawed, while large businesses, particularly those that already own libraries of patents, are calling on the EU to establish US-style patent laws allowing so-called business methods to be patented.

The patents directive has been through the European Parliament and the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market (JURI), which appointed McCarthy as "rapporteur," the person responsible for guiding the proposal through the European Parliament. McCarthy issued her report in June, but debate was postponed until this month because of the controversy surrounding the report.

Last week a group of economists sent an open letter to the European Parliament, characterizing the draft proposal as damaging to technological innovation and Europe's software industry. Last Wednesday the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) organized a wave of online protest urging the EU to abandon the directive in its present form.

About 500 people, including some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), took part in a rally in Brussels while over 600 Web sites participated in the online protest, said Benjamin Henrion, one of the protest organizers: "We had the impression that the vote was postponed in part due to our action and the letter from the group (of 12 economists)," he said.

A chance to explain Henrion hailed the delay as a chance to educate parliamentarians on the complex technical issues surrounding patenting software: "Three more weeks to explain software patents is a good thing for us. Our polls show that when politicians understand the technical issues and implications of software patent laws like those in the US, they largely support our stance," he said.

But other MEPs say the directive already has comprehensive safeguards against the possibility of large companies patenting as many technologies as possible in an effort to squeeze out competition from small and medium-size businesses. In a letter published by The Financial Times MEP's Malcolm Harbour and Joachim Wuermeling wrote that they and others from Europe's centre-right parties: "Wholeheartedly support the pragmatic and measured approach" of the current directive.

The MEPs conceded that "the EU must not go down the road taken by the US (and, it now appears, Japan) in allowing patents for general software and business methods". They warned that: "Inconsistencies in the granting of software patents across EU patent offices are already threatening to undermine the EU's desired position. The new directive reverses this undesirable trend and protects Europe's innovative software industry."