Feeds

Intellectual Property Office approves software patent for UK

More than just a program, apparently

Boost IT visibility and business value

Software that allows programmers to program a mobile phone system remotely from a computer can be patented because it is more than just a software program, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has ruled.

The ruling overturns an initial decision that the invention is unpatentable because it consists of nothing more than a computer program.

The Patents Act says that something cannot be patented if it consists only of a program for a computer. The IPO has historically been stricter in denying software patents than European patent authorities, despite UK law being based on the European Patent Convention, on which the European Patent Office bases its decisions. The US allows software to be patented.

The patent for programming mobile phones was first registered by Intuwave, then passed to Symbian and finally to Nokia, which appealed an initial IPO decision to refuse it.

The invention allowed a computer to control a mobile phone while software was being developed, which Nokia said was an improvement over using the mobile phone's controls to develop software and using a computer emulator of the phone, which were the methods used until now for development.

IPO hearing officer Andrew Bartlett, deputy director of the IPO, upheld the appeal and allowed the patent to be registered because the invention made a 'technical contribution' when compared with previous inventions in the field, or 'prior art'.

The hearing officer judged the patent application in the light of two recent landmark court rulings on software patentability. The Court of Appeal ruling in a case involving Aerotel and Macrossan set out a four-step test to judge whether something fell outside the scope of patentability.

Then it also applied the rule laid out in a subsequent Court of Appeal ruling concerning mobile phone software company Symbian. In that ruling Lord Neuberger overturned the IPO's refusal of a patent because the technology was found to have made a technical contribution.

"Moving on to steps 3 and 4 [of the four-step Aerotel/Macrossan test], what I must now do is decide whether that contribution falls solely in excluded matter," said Bartlett in his ruling. "In doing that I will specifically address the question “is the contribution technical?” as [the] Symbian [ruling] dictates I must."

In the Symbian case Lord Neuberger found that the invention was not just a better computer program but turned the machine it ran on into "a better and faster computer". It therefore made a technical contribution.

"In my view, the particular way that the present invention overcomes the technical problems inherent in the prior art provides a technical contribution," ruled Bartlett. "Thus whilst the invention may be implemented in software it provides a technical contribution such that it is more than a program for a computer as such."

"I have found that the invention defined in the claims of the present invention makes a technical contribution and is not excluded [from being patented]," said Bartlett.

The ruling can be read here. (pdf)

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

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

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
PEAK LANDFILL: Why tablet gloom is good news for Windows users
Sinofsky's hybrid strategy looks dafter than ever
Fiendishly complex password app extension ships for iOS 8
Just slip it in, won't hurt a bit, 1Password makers urge devs
Mozilla keeps its Beard, hopes anti-gay marriage troubles are now over
Plenty on new CEO's todo list – starting with Firefox's slipping grasp
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.