Currently viewing the tag: "software patents"

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 HuluWildTangent 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Further, the Court identified “using advertisement as a currency” as the core principle of the patent, while the claims do not cite any concrete features as to how the core principle can be implemented.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.

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The newly elected President of France, François Hollande promising "change". Will he be the first anti-patent campaigner governing an EU state?

Now that François Hollande took office as the new President of France after his marginal victory in the French presidential elections this May, he will now introduce himself to official EU policy on his first Competitive Council meeting on May 31/June 1. The draft agenda for this meeting (cf. item 19), reading “Draft agreement on a Unified Patent Court and draft Statute – Political agreement“, electrifies observers of and parties involved the ongoing European patent legislation saga (see also press release, middle of page 5).

In recent months the upcoming French elections brought the negotiations on the Unified Patent Court Agreement to a complete standstill, as the dynamics between the French, British and German heads of govenment and the general political climate is a crucial factor in this legislative process, especially since the only serious and realistic candidates for the attractive seat of the new UPC Central Division are Paris, London, and Munich and it is frequently announced through official channels that this question is the only remaining open issue.

The EU Council expressed already in January this year its believe that a final agreement can be reached in June 2012 (see official statement) and it was the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, who clarified in a recent letter that he hopes (or expects) the remaining issues to be sorted out at next week’s Competitiveness meeting:

“[...] This deal is needed now, because this is an issue of crucial importance for innovation and growth. I very much hope that the last outstanding issue will be sorted out at the May Competitiveness Council. If not, I will take it up at the June European Council.”

But IP matters will not become easier in Europe with Mr Hollande, given his apparent openness to positions of critics of the current patent system. In fact, some of the answers (pdf) of Ms Fleur Pellerin (@fleurpellerin), responsible for the digital economy in Hollande’s campaign team, on a tendentious pre-election questionnaire of French anti software patent group “April” appear as if the socialist candidate for president (or his spokeswoman) was one of the ideological leaders of that pressure group:

The patentability of software would induce a partitioning of innovation that would be harmful to the ecosystem seen in its digital together. I am therefore opposed to the patenting of software.

(parts of the) cover page of a related EPO brochure

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

EPO case law regarding patentability of software inventions,

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.

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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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In the past two years we have seen a number of quite interesting decisions of the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof; BGH) dealing with patent-eligibility of software-related inventions.

The first decision in the row was X ZB 22/07 („Steuerung für Untersuchungsmodalitäten“, “Control of Examination Modalities”) of 20 January 2009, in which the BGH analysed the circumstances under which an embedded software represents statutory subject-matter (see comments). In this decision the BGH sketched a two-step approach to examine whether or not an invention is sufficiently “technical” to qualify for patent eligibility:

  1. Is the subject-matter a “technical invention” as required by § 1 I PatG ?
  2. Does the invention fall under the exclusion of a “computer programs as such” as requited by § 1 III No. 3, IV PatG ?

An additional third step completes the examination scheme:

  1. Do the technical features render the invention novel and inventive over prior art?

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