Computer Program Patent Application Turned Down by Court of Appeal

April 13, 2015

Computer Program Patent Application Turned Down by Court of Appeal

It is exceedingly difficult to patent computer programs, although the code of a program is subject to copyright.

The reason for this is that Section 1 of the Patents Act 1977 does not allow patent protection for computer programs. In order for a computer-based application to be patentable, it is necessary that the invention provides 'a technical contribution beyond that of a mere program running on a conventional computer'.

In a recent case, a patent application was made for a program the function of which was to extract data from a computer and transfer it to another computer via the Internet, the request and transfer taking place by email.

What was unique about the system was that it allowed the transfer to occur by way of a simple request and response without the need to be continuously connected to the Internet, which in turn reduced the risk of data loss whilst being connected.

The question that arose was whether the computer program made a technical contribution to the known art of computing. The officer who considered the patent application concluded that it was simply a better way of retrieving data from a remote station by using email to transmit retrieval criteria and to receive back the corresponding data. He commented, "I can see no technical effect outside of the two computers. Neither is either computer or the connecting network operating in a new way. I am therefore forced to conclude that the contribution is excluded as a program for a computer as such."

The patent application was therefore refused.