The patent US 7,346,545, relating to delivering copyrighted media products through a server free of charge in exchange for watching advertisements, has been enforced by Ultramercial against a number of Internet media competitors, like Hulu, WildTangent and YouTube. In August 2010 the 545 patent has been found invalid by a California District Court in view of the Bilski v. Kappos ruling which has been issued shortly before by the US Supreme Court (CV 09-06918). For further information on this case, please see my earlier posting here.
To be on the safe side, the District Court applied a two-stage approach, that is, as a screening filter, the CAFC’s machine-or-transformation test and then the SCOTUS abstract idea test.
The MOT test failed as the District Court found that the “mere act of storing media on computer memory does not tie the invention to a machine in any meaningful way”. Further, the Court identified “using advertisement as a currency” as the core principle of the patent, while the claims do not cite any concrete features as to how the core principle can be implemented.
Some observers criticised the District Court’s reasoning as being capable to kill any invention where a key concept can be labelled ‘abstract’ even if the invention is clearly limited to an electronic implementation and even if the electronic implementation is central to the idea.
Now, as the Federal Circuit under Chief Judge Radar reviewed the case in appeal, it turns out that such criticism hit the mark (see decision of June 21, 2013), as the case was reversed and remanded. In its decision the Federal Circuit referred multiple times to the term “technology”, e.g.:
- The plain language of the [patent act] provides that any new, non-obvious, and fully disclosed technical advance is eligible for protection.
- After all, unlike the Copyright Act which divides ideas from expression, the Patent Act covers and protects any new and useful technical advance, including applied ideas.
- Far from abstract, advances in computer technology—both hardware and software—drive innovation in every area of scientific and technical endeavor.
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.
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.
The k/s/n/h::law blog
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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- kelle on Germany: Copyright Protection More Easily Available For Works Of “Applied Arts”
- Time Limits & Deadlines in Draft UPCA RoP: Counting The Days - KSNH Law - Intangible.Me on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- Time Limits & Deadlines in Draft UPCA RoP: Counting The Days | ksnh::law on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Cou... on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- European Commission Takes Next Step Towards Legalising Software Patents in Europe | Techrights on EU Commission publishes Proposal of amendend Brussels I Regulation for ensuring Enforcement of UPC Judgements
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