Monday, January 28, 2008

UK High Court Allows Software Patents

On Friday, in the High Court, Mr Justice Kitchin ruled that the UK Patent Office's practice of rejecting software patents was wrong. David Pearce at IPKat is understandably surprised at the decision and has an excellent commentary.

"After comprehensively summarising the last couple of decades of legal developments, covering the usual suspects (Gale, the oft-misspelled Merrill Lynch, Fujitsu and various EPO decisions), Kitchin J arrived at the main question in this appeal, which was whether the UK-IPO was correct in construing that the Court of Appeal judgment in Aerotel/Macrossan inevitably prohibited the patenting of all computer programs, or whether the old approach of considering the 'potential' technical effect of a computer program (following the EPO approach) could be taken into account, in a similar way to considering the effect of a method claim that would inevitably be carried out by running a program (which all of the applications under appeal contained). The UK-IPO had concluded that Aerotel/Macrossan ruled out computer program product patent claims, and consequently reverted to its old practice of rejecting such claims...

Kitchin J recognised that it was highly undesirable to have provisions of the EPC construed differently at the EPO as compared with the courts in the different contracting states, and that decisions of the Boards of Appeal should be highly persuasive. Mention was also made of the contrasting approach taken in Germany, where the EPO line tends to be followed closely.

The apparent approval of the UK-IPO's rejection of computer program product claims in Oneida Indian Nation's Application [see IPKat commentary here] was either rejected by Kitchin J as not actually meaning that, or was in the alternative respectfully disagreed with (as the High Court is allowed to do, in contrast with the Court of Appeal), depending on the different possible interpretations of Christopher Floyd's judgment.

In conclusion then, Kitchin J found that the appeals should be allowed. Each application concerned a computer related invention where the examiner had allowed claims to, in effect, a method performed by running a suitably programmed computer and to a computer programmed to carry out the method. The Hearing Officer had rejected corresponding program claims on the basis that they were necessarily prohibited by Article 52, and in Kitchin J's judgment he had erred in doing so. The cases were remitted to the UK-IPO for further consideration in light of the judgment."

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