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|Neutral Citation Number:  EWHC 2416 (Pat)
|Case No: CH/2005/APP/0232
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
|Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
|7th November 2005
B e f o r e :
THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE PUMFREY
| IN THE MATTER OF THE PATENTS ACT 1977
|AND IN THE MATTER OF PATENT APPLICATION GB 0017772.5 by
on appeal from a decision of
THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF PATENTS, DESIGNS AND TRADE MARKS
Richard Davis (instructed by Marks & Clerk, Patent Agents) for the Appellant
Colin Birss (instructed by The Treasury Solicitor) for the Comptroller
Hearing date: 23rd June 2005
HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Pumfrey :
- This is an appeal from the decision of Mr H Jones, the Deputy Director acting for the Comptroller General, who decided that patent application GB 0017772.5, as amended, was excluded from patentability under s.1 (2)( d) of the Patents Act 1977. The claim as amended before the Comptroller was as follows:
"1. A computer apparatus configured to provide a lottery playable via the Internet, the apparatus comprising:
a web server configured to provide each of a plurality of players with a web page over the Internet, the web page displaying a set of brands;
receiving means configured to receive over the Internet data representing player selection of a subset of the set of brands;
storage means configured to record the selected subset of brands together with information identifying the player;
selecting means configured to select a subset of brands at random from the set of brands; and
reward means for awarding a prize to a player if that player's selected subset of brands corresponds to the randomly selected subset of brands".
- The apparatus features of this claim can manifestly be satisfied by a general purpose computer connected to the Internet, the general purpose computer being programmed to provide a web server, and further software conditioning the machine so as to receive, store, select and compare. This is a computer operating in a new way, to permit a user to play in a lottery. The claim accordingly raises the familiar difficulty presented by the exclusions provided by paragraph 1(2)(c) and (d) of the Act, which exclude from patentability a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer; or the presentation of information. The scope of the exclusions is limited by the proviso to subsection 1(2) which states that the foregoing provision shall prevent anything from being treated as an invention for the purpose of the Act only to the extent that a patent or application for a patent relates to that thing as such. As the Hearing Officer correctly observed, these provisions are among the provisions designated in s.130(7) as being so framed as to have, as nearly as practicable, the same effect as Article 52 of the European Patent Convention to which they correspond. There is a substantial body of decisions on these provisions emanating from the Technical Boards of Appeal of the EPO to which regard must be had.
- The Applicant's contentions are straightforward. It is contended that the claim is a claim to a game, conceptually no different from a board game, and is therefore entitled to the benefit of the note of Official Ruling 1926(A) (1926) 43 RPC Appendix page i. This note reads as follows:
"Counter and board games considered in relation to the definition of an invention contained in Section 93 of the Patents and Designs Acts, 1907 and 1919
The question having arisen upon an Examiner's Report, whether a patent for a game of the above character should be refused where the only novel feature (apart from the rules of the game) lies in the particular character of the markings upon the board, the following Ruling was given:-
It may be stated generally that where the claim made in cases such as this is to apparatus for playing a game, comprising one or more playing pieces and a board marked in a particular manner substantially as shown in drawings accompanying the Specification, the playing piece or pieces being moved in accordance with directions furnished in the Specification as to the manner in which the game is to be played, the requirements involved by the definition of an "invention" contained in Section 93 of the Acts will be held to be complied with, and the application will be subject only to such objection as may arise under Section 7 or otherwise in the normal procedure of examination" .
- I have to say that it comes as something of a surprise to me that the practice of the Office in respect of s.1 (2) of the 1977 Act can be said to have been determined by a construction placed upon s.93 of the 1907-1919 Act. The Official Ruling cannot provide a valid guide to the interpretation of the 1977 Act, the more so since the 1977 Act is, as I have indicated, to be interpreted having regard to the provisions of the European Patent Convention.
- For some reason which must remain shrouded in mystery, the draftsman of s.1 (2) did not follow Article 52 of the European Patent Convention, but departed from it in a manner which might well be thought to be significant, were it not for the provision of s.130(7). It is better, in my view, simply to refer to the Convention, Article 52 of which is as follows:
(1) European patents shall be granted for any inventions which are susceptible of industrial application, which are new and which involve an inventive step.
(2) The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph (1):
(a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods;
(b) aesthetic creations;
(c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers;
(d) presentations of information.
(3) The provisions of paragraph 2 shall exclude patentability of the subject-matter or activities referred to in that provision only to the extent to which a European patent application or European patent relates to such subject matter or activities as such.
(4) Methods for treatment of the human or animal body by surgery or therapy and diagnostic methods practised on the human or animal body shall not be regarded as inventions which are susceptible of industrial application within the meaning of paragraph (1). This provision shall not apply to products, in particular substances or compositions, for use in any of these methods."
- A moment's thought will show that it is not possible to provide an exhaustive definition of "invention". The Convention does not attempt to interpret the word but provides a list of things which are excluded, whether or not they would be regarded as inventions.
- This is not merely of theoretical interest. The importance of the programmed computer in modern industry, and the recent expansion in attempts to patent business methods, have ensured a substantial body of cases in the Technical Boards of Appeal of the EPO relating to these two exclusions. Discoveries and scientific theories have never given any difficulty, I suppose because it is difficult to work out how to draft a claim to either, but the scope and meaning of the other provisions are not straightforward.
- Before any attempt is undertaken to reconcile the various decisions on these topics (a task which, in my view, is unlikely to be crowned with success) I think that the would-be analyst needs to consider whether the excluded matters have anything in common. In my view, they do not. They are a heterogeneous collection, some of which (aesthetic creations) have their own form of protection, others of which (discoveries, mathematical methods and scientific theories) have never been accepted as suitable subjects for monopolies in themselves, on obvious but different policy grounds. The problems are really caused by (c) and (d), which, by reason of their exclusion only to the extent that the patent relates to the subject-matter as such, are remarkably difficult to assess in cases lying near the boundary, particularly as it is difficult to discern any underlying policy. To take a straightforward example, do we only exclude computer programs as such because computer programs are protected by copyright, like aesthetic creations which can likewise be used industrially? Or is there a practical objection, in that this is an area which is exceptionally difficult to search? Or is there some other reason? Whatever the reason, it may possibly be that it is not the same as the reason for excluding methods of doing business.
- There has been a tendency, especially in the earlier decisions of the Technical Boards of Appeal, to consider that the exclusions have in common a lack of 'technical effect' . While this may be true of many members of the list, it is not necessarily the case. A programmed computer provides an obvious example. Suppose a program written for a computer that enables an existing computer to process data in a new way and so produce a beneficial effect, such as increased speed, or more rapid display of information, or a new type of display of information. It is difficult to say that these are not technical effects, and, indeed, that the programmed computer, itself a machine that ex hypothesi has never existed before, is itself a technical article and so in principle the subject of patent protection. The real question is whether this is a relevant technical effect, or, more crudely, whether there is enough technical effect: is there a technical effect over and above that to be expected from the mere loading of a program into a computer? From this sort of consideration there has developed an approach that I consider to be well established on the authorities, which is to take the claimed programmed computer, and ask what it contributes to the art over and above the fact that it covers a programmed computer. If there is a contribution outside the list of excluded matter, then the invention is patentable, but if the only contribution to the art lies in excluded subject matter, it is not patentable.
- The majority of the English decisions (in particular, Merrill Lynch  RPC 561 (CA), Fujitsu  RPC 511 (Laddie J) and RPC 608 (CA), Gale  RPC 305), along with EPO decisions such as T208/84 Vicom/Computer-related Invention  OJEPO 14,  2 EPOR 74, support this approach. The analysis has two stages. First, determine what the inventor has contributed to the art over and above a computer operating in a new way as a matter of substance and, second, determine whether this contribution lies in excluded matter or, on the contrary, whether it consists in a technical contribution or effect. The contribution must be considered as a matter of substance so as (for example) to prevent patents being granted for such things as novel computer programs on a carrier such as a compact disc.
- An invention may be viewed as a solution to a concrete technical problem. Merely to program a computer so that it operates in a new way is not a solution to any technical problem, although the result may be considered to be a new machine. It follows that an inventive contribution cannot reside in excluded subject matter. I consider that this is a correct statement of the principle, although the learning in the EPO on this issue is not entirely consistent. Decision T0935/97 IBM/Computer Program II is a case in which a claim to a program on a carrier was allowed, although the material technical effect was found only in the computer once programmed with the claimed software, but I think that the contribution approach is the one that I should take in the light of the decided English authorities, and having regard to what I believe to be the preponderance of the views expressed in the EPO.
- The questions may be answered notwithstanding the fact that there has been no novelty search in relation to the invention. I entirely acknowledge the force of the objection made by Mr Davis on behalf of the Applicant that the scope of a contribution to the art can scarcely be ascertained until a prior art search has been done, but one should not confuse the scope of the contribution on the one hand with the area in which the contribution is made on the other. Moreover, there comes a point where the relevant matters are so notorious that a formal search is neither necessary nor desirable and the Comptroller is entitled to use common sense and experience (see Laguerre's Patent  RPC 384 at 398 line 24). Thus, in the present case, the physical underpinnings of the claim are a general purpose computer programmed to provide a web server and the Internet, matters which at the priority date were so notorious that it would be absurd in a technical context to feign ignorance of their existence, purpose and (so far as relevant) manner of operation. Indeed, without such knowledge it is not possible to understand the specification at all.
- In my judgment, there can be no question of there being any contribution to the art outside the provision of the various pages to any person suitably equipped to view the pages provided by the server. Over and above that, any element of reinforcing the message of the brand or brands selected by the player must, it seems to me, be methods of doing business and so lying in a forbidden subject-matter. In my view, the Hearing Officer's conclusion is precisely that to which I would myself have come, for the reasons I have endeavoured to set out above. This appeal must therefore be dismissed with costs.
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