Feeds

English Judge OKs software patent case

Says has 'real prospect of success'

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

The exclusion of computer programs from the patenting process will be tested in a Court of Appeal case that could turn UK patent law on its head.

Lord Justice Jacob has given permission for an appeal to be heard over an online system of document assembly that was previously ruled to be excluded from the patent provision. Jacob's decision could clear up a till-now murky area of patent law.

"The issue of exclusions is of public interest, sufficiently uncertain and thus worthy of consideration by the court," wrote Jacob in his decision to grant the right of appeal.

The case rests on a series of exceptions to the patent law, and two in particular. It will test the exclusion of anything that is a "mental process" and anything that is a "computer program".

The case concerns Australian resident Neal Macrossan, who built a web system that automatically gathers the documents needed to incorporate a company in the UK. Using a series of increasingly focused questions, the system automatically generates and registers the complex series of documents on behalf of a client.

His application to patent the process was denied by a Hearing Officer of the Patent Office on the grounds that it fell foul of the exclusions contained in both the European Patent Convention and the UK Patents Act.

The Act states that something cannot be patented if it is: "a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer". It is this set of exclusions which Jacob calls "sufficiently uncertain" to merit an appeal.

The case will constitute a rare test of those exclusions as they relate to computer programs. In 1997 Fujitsu was involved in a similar case heard at the Appeal Court. Fujitsu wanted to patent a computer-based process which modelled crystal structures, something previously only possible through complex plastic modelling.

The court ruled that because the computer simply sped up an existing process, the application must fail because the only change in the process was that it was done by a computer program, which excluded it from patent protection.

The Patent Office Hearing Officer's original ruling came to similar conclusions. Hearing Officer Mrs S E Chalmers said that some of her rulings "follow the decision of the Court of Appeal in Fujitsu Limited’s Application," and that "this method [Macrossan's product] is replicating a mental process and hence the invention falls within the general ambit of the 'mental act' exclusion."

The Patent Office Hearing Officer's original ruling came to similar conclusions. Hearing Officer Mrs S E Chalmers said that some of her rulings "follow the decision of the Court of Appeal in Fujitsu Limited’s Application," and that "this method [Macrossan's product] is replicating a mental process and hence the invention falls within the general ambit of the 'mental act' exclusion."

Macrossan took the Patent Office to the High Court over its decision earlier this year, only to be rebuffed again. Though the High Court pointed out that the Patent Office rules had changed in the year since Macrossan's hearing, Justice Mann said that the application should fail both on the grounds of being the automation of a mental act and of it being a program for a computer.

Jacob's permission to appeal raises the possibility of a new interpretation on one, or indeed both, of those crucial exclusions in an area untested at this level in recent times. In his decision, Jacobs wrote that "the arguments have a real prospect of success".

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

The next step in data security

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Google extends app refund window to two hours
You now have 120 minutes to finish that game instead of 15
Intel: Hey, enterprises, drop everything and DO HADOOP
Big Data analytics projected to run on more servers than any other app
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.