-- The European Parliament rejected a proposed law Wednesday that would create a single way of patenting software across the European Union.

The vote, 648 to 14 with 18 abstentions, was a defeat for big companies, which had pushed hard for adoption of the bill. Businesses as well as free software advocates had engaged in massive lobbying campaigns.

The bill would have given companies E.U.-wide patent protection for computerized inventions ranging from programs for complex CAT scanners to ABS car-brake systems. The protection would have extended to computer programs when software is used in the context of realizing inventions.

But lawmakers said the measure would stifle enterprise and did not promote innovation, and that human knowledge can't be patented. The move kills the legislation since the E.U. head office, which had drafted it, does not plan a new version.

"Patents will continue to be handled by national patent offices . . . as before, which means different interpretations as to what is patentable, without any judiciary control by the European Court of Justice," said E.U. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who represented the E.U. head office at the vote.

E.U. legislators say questions of patentability can be solved only in a wider framework, rather than field by field.

Companies such as Nokia Corp. and Siemens AG had said the software bill would give them incentives to invest in research and development.

Open-source advocates, however, said individuals and small businesses could be bankrupted by expensive legal battles over fuzzy patent law.

Many members of the European Parliament feared that the bill would limit the development of new software in Europe, especially by small businesses. They also wanted more clarity on the criteria for what software could and could not be patented.

"You don't patent a mathematical formula, for software is merely a connection of a mathematical formula," said Michel Rocard, the former French prime minister charged with steering the parliament debate on the issue.