The controversial EU patent directive has been derailed in a shock vote.

MEPs voted overwhelmingly to ask the European Commission to withdraw the draft legislation that critics say wrongly allows software to be patented.

The decision, taken at an impassioned meeting of the Parliament's legal affairs committee yesterday, is a victory for the software-patent opponents who have been intensely lobbying MEPs to insert safeguards into the legislation.

Members of the committee voted 19 in favor, with two against and one abstention, to ask the Commission to withdraw its proposal, known as the computer-implemented inventions directive. Even Arlene McCarthy, a UK Labour MEP who was intricately linked with the directive, accepted that following increasing argument, it was best to start again. "Under the circumstances this is the best solution," she said.

Restarting the procedure would allow input from countries, such as Poland, that felt they had not been properly consulted over the draft law. The Polish government played a key role in twice blocking formal approval of the legislation. Polish Parliamentarians also led efforts to restart the legal process.

The Commission now has a range of options. It can comply with Parliament's request and not table a new proposal, which would mean, in the absence of new legislation, that patent decisions continue to be made by national patent offices.

It can also wait until the normal legal procedures are followed, at which point the European Parliament would have a second chance to revise the legislation. But it is unlikely to do this, given the growing political opposition to it in its current form.

The most likely scenario is that the procedure will be delayed by four to six months. This would allow time for the implications of the legislation to be assessed.

Arlene McCarthy is calling for the Commission to carry out an impact assessment to see whether the draft legislation would be as damaging for different parts of the IT industry as lobbyists, both for and against the directive, claim. "Everyone wanted this looked at again," she said. "For industry I would have thought it would be better to have no regulation than bad regulation."