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The UK Patent Office has published the findings of its workshops on the European software patents directive. The workshops were arranged to try to involve the technical community in defining how the term "technical contribution" should be interpreted in the UK.

The workshops asked participants to play patent examiner for the day, and to decide whether or not various fictitious inventions ought to be awarded a patent. Neither of the two definitions that have been considered frontrunners proved particularly palatable to the workshop's participants.

Overall, participants felt that the definition in Article 2 of the draft directive is ambiguous and too liberal. But the definition put forward by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), was found to be too restrictive, and again, ambiguous. The ambiguity lies in the reference to "controllable forces of nature". Participants felt this was wide open to different interpretations, the Patent Office says.

Patent officials say that this demonstrates the difficulty of coming up with a clear definition, while still keeping within the confines of current UK law.

Sean Dennehey, Director of Patents, said he was grateful to everyone who gave up their time to come along to the workshops. His goal was to find a definition that is easy to apply and which allows patents for computer-implemented technical inventions but blocks patents for non-technical software.

He went on: "The workshops have generated some useful ideas, and I hope they will be taken into account in the imminent debate on the CII Directive at the European Parliament."

"One possible approach seems to be combining a positive statement of what 'technical contribution' means with a negative statement of what it doesn't mean. The draft Directive already does this to some extent because it has a later negative statement in Article 4(2), but we need to look at the wording more carefully."

The full analysis is available here. ®

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