Feeds

UK.gov in scrap over school e-register patent

Confusion reigns despite court ruling

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Top three mobile application threats

The UK government is embroiled in legal wrangling over the validity of a patent covering an electronic registration system for schools. Far from settling the dispute, a high court ruling on 17 June prompted both sides to claim victory. The continuing dispute, and contradictory advice from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), has caused uncertaintly over whether schools themselves could be held liable for infringing on the patented technology.

European Patent (UK) No 0664 061, held by Frontline Technologies, covers "the process of exchanging student data over a wireless network using portable computers and transceivers in an educational environment". It can be applied to a wide range of activities, including wireless electronic pupil registration and attendance management systems.

In November 2002 the DfES weighed into a fight between Bromcom, sister company to Frontline and non-exclusive licencee, and TASC, a rival supplier of wireless systems to schools. Bromcom alleged that TASC's product infringed on the patent license it holds, and promptly took legal action. TASC settled out of court with Frontline, and put up a notice warning customers that they might need a license for the technology. The financial terms of the settlement remain confidential, and a spokesman for the company was reluctant to comment further.

At the time, the DfES was advised by its lawyers that the patent might be invalid, so it wrote to local education authorities, advising them not to "agree to take a licence from Bromcom to use other suppliers' equipment that may fall within the scope of the patent" until the question of the patent's validity had been resolved.

In June 2003, the Department for Education and Skills announced that it had "issued proceedings in the High Court to test the validity of the wireless technology patent". The trial date was set for February 2004.

According to the DfES, the government "substantially" won its case in June this year. The department was able to show prior art existed on one area of the patent, specifically that relating to a computer system using file-sharing architecture at Kingshurst City Technology College in the early 1990s. It now advises schools that they are able to use "any WLAN equipment which is 802.11 standards compliant regardless of the manufacturer or supplier of the school’s MIS without infringing the FTL Patent".

However, the legal battle is not yet concluded. Sources familiar with the dispute question the sense of issuing such categorical advice on an issue which has not been resolved. Indeed, responding to a question in Parliament on 15 October, Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education, appeared to distance himself from this advice. Asked whether the liability for deploying systems without licences lay with the schools or with the DfES, Mr. Clarke said that in common with all products and services, schools are liable for their decisions. "Before making such decisions, schools are able to seek detailed advice from their relevant service or product supplier," he said.

Frontline has also claimed victory because the court only upheld part of the DfES' challenge. The judge ruled that unless the patent was amended, it would be revoked, but did allow Frontline to apply to the court to make the changes neccessary for the patent to be upheld.

The government will not say how much it has spent contesting the patent. In a written answer to questions on 8 November, Education Secretary Charles Clarke declined to release the figure, saying that it would be inapparopriate while the costs of the litigation are still being negotiated. He argued that the amount spent is a fraction the potential cost to schools, and added that his department was challenging the scope of the proposed amendment.

Bromcom declined to comment beyond the official Frontline statement while the legal wranglings continue. ®

Related stories

Linus and friends lead charge against software patents
Microsoft offshores patent war - so goes the WTO?
UK.gov launches technology five-year plan

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
APPLE FAILS to ditch class action suit over ebook PRICE-FIX fiasco
Do not pass go, do cough (up to) $840m in damages
Whoever you vote for, Google gets in
Report uncovers giant octopus squid of lobbying influence
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.