In this ealier posting on the America Invents Act we reported on the new Covered Business Methods Review (faq, info) which allows to challenge any business method patent before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) as soon as it is enforced against an accused infringer.
From a European perspective, this new proceedings seems particularly interesting as the question as to whether or not a claim falls under the CBM review is answered by 37 CFR § 42.301 as follows:
(a) Covered business method patent means a patent that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.
(b) Technological invention. In determining whether a patent is for a technological invention solely for purposes of the Transitional Program for Covered Business Methods (section 42.301(a)), the following will be considered on a case-by-case basis: whether the claimed subject matter as a whole recites a technological feature that is novel and unobvious over the prior art; and solves a technical problem using a technical solution.
This definition is surprisingly similar to what European case law (and German case law) has developed to define “methods for [...] doing business [...] and programs for computers as such” according to Art. 52 (2), (3) EPC (and § 1 (3), (4) PatG). Even further, the requirement of a “technological feature that is novel and unobvious” seems to correspond to the well-established Comvik approach (cf. T 641/00, 2002) of the EPO Boards of Appeal, according to which non-technical features cannot contribute to novelty and inventive step.
The final package of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R.1249, pdf) will enter into force on 16 March 2013 (for a list of amendments and their effective dates, see here). By this date, the most significant amendments of the new Act will enter into force, namely the transformation from the traditional first-to-invent regime to the new first-inventor-to-file regime.
Besides reducing the USPTO’s backlog of approx. 680.000 patent applications and improving patent quality, the main objective of the America Invents Act is to harmonise the US patent system better with international patent law standards and by that facilitate second filings of US applicants in foreign jurisdictions.
This is indeed a brilliant idea, not only for US applicants but also for European applicants and practitioners, as it will align the US system closer with the European patent system. However, event for those legal instruments that are clearly adapted to the European point of view, important differences remain. Some of those tiny differences that may have a huge impacts on practice are outlined below:
During the past 15 years the Boards of Appeal of the EPO have developed a consistent case law as to the pragmatic problem/solution approach for assessing patentability pursuent Art 52 -57 EPC. In our earlier overview on
to which this posting is meant as a more practical continuation, we briefly characterised the EPO’s main examination approach:
[M]odern case law [of the EPO Boards of Appeal on software inventions], especially the suggestion in T 1173/97 that the “technical contribution” is an inventive step consideration and the observation in some early cases (e.g. T 38/86 and T 65/86) that the “inventive contribution” must lie in a “field of technology”, almost naturally lead to the problem-solution approach as developed in T 641/00 (COMVIK) and T 258/03 (Hitachi) and theoretically justified in T 154/04 (Duns).
This approach nowadays is the crucial test to differentiate between a technical contribution implementing a non-technical concept (e.g. a business method) and an inventive contribution in a technical field (e.g. an embedded control software). Its general idea is that only the technical features of a claim may be taken into account for assessing inventive step, while the non-technical features form a basis for formulating the underlying problem, with the effect that the non-technical features may render the technical solution obvious.
This approach is widely accepted among practitioners as enhancing legal security for applicants since it represents a comprehensible benchmark against which EPO decisions are subject to verifiction.
Back in September 2010 the EPO-sponsored 15th European Patent Judge’s Symposium took place in Lisbon, where the judges discussed developments in European patent law. The symposium was attended by 120 patent judges from Europe and guests from the USA and Japan. A big issue of course was the EU patent and the related litigation system, but the related discussion is now meaningless in view of the recent developments in this regard. But there were other interesting topics discussed as well.
For instance, in a working session on “Patentability of Computer implemented inventions”, Mr. Dai Rees – Chairman of an EPO appeal board and member of the Enlarged Board of Appeals that issued the G3/08 opinion – outlined the developments of the respective EPO case law. His contribution is documented in an article in the conference proceedings: Special edition 1/2011 of EPO Office Journal (PDF, 5 MB), pp. 93 to 102. The below summary reflects my personal observations and understanding of Mr. Rees presentation and also contains some individual flavours and thoughts.
Relevant Provisions: As a reminder, the provisions of the EPC to be considered for computer programs or technicality issues not only involve Art 52 EPC (“programs for computers as such“), but also Articles 18, 19, 21, 22 and Rules 42(1)(a), (c), 43(1) and 44 EPC, which use the term “technical” in different contexts. Further, in the EPC 2000 revision, Art 52(1) EPC was clarified in that patents shall be granted for inventions “in all fields of technology”, which, however, was regarded as a clarification rather than a substantive amendment of the Convention.
Amazon’s so called “One-Click Patent” is one of the most controversially discussed software inventions ever. The term, which nowadays is used as a cipher for a prototypical business method patent, was originally coined for US 5,960,411 titled “method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network” (filed 12 Sep 2007, granted 28 Sep 1999; pdf), which has been enforced against competitor Barnes & Noble and licensed to Apple.
The respective teaching enables easy Internet shopping in that a customer visits a website, enters address and payment information and is associated with an identifier stored in a “cookie” in his client computer. A server is then able to recognize the client by the cookie and to retrieve purchasing information related to the customer, who thus can buy an item with a “single click”.
EP Parent Application: The first “1-click” application in Europe, EP 0 909 381 A2, related to an Internet-based customer data system and claimed a “method for ordering an item using a client system“. The application has been withdrawn on 08 June 2001 in view of approaching oral proceedings that had been summoned by the Examining Division with a negative preliminary opinion saying that the claimed teaching was not inventive over prior art document D3 (Baron C: “Implementing a Web shopping cart”, Dr. Dobbs Journal, Redwood City, CA, 01.09.1997). During the proceedings, Dutch Internet bookseller BOL.COM supported the Examining Division by a number of third party observations according to Art. 115 EPC, all of which pointing the Examining Division to the relevance of D3 (see e.g. here or here).
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Some of the patent attorneys of the KSNH law firm have joined their efforts to research what is going on in the various branches of IP law and practice in order to keep themselves, their clients as well as interested circles of the public up to date. This blog is intended to present results of such efforts to a wider public.
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