What a difference a single letter makes…

I have just read this article on the Register and it makes me proud to be British!

A patent for the handling of gratuities in card payments has been revoked by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for being a business method implemented by a computer program. The decision follows recently-revised guidance on patentability.

One of the inventors told OUT-LAW today that his company spent more than £100,000 trying to enforce and defend the patent before passing the rights to another company, which he described as a “patent troll”. He believes that company will appeal this month’s ruling.

If you read the full story, there isn’t anything remotely “patentable” about this idea at all.

Their patent described a process of generating and handling an electronic online authorisation and uploading request relating to a payment transaction. The customer would be offered the chance to add a gratuity and a request for authorisation of the total would be constructed. A request would then be made over a telecoms network and a receipt generated for the customer.

Yes. That’s it. It’s an idea about how to charge for a tip and the main bill at the same time! Pretty new and innovative huh? Good grief… How on earth does anyone think this is patentable?

Patents are to protect INVENTIONS. That is new things, things that haven’t been thought of before or that are not just evolution to the status quo.

Over here we have some tests that a patent application must pass.

A landmark ruling in 2006 in the cases of Aerotel and Macrossan changed the way the UK-IPO assesses whether inventions are patentable. A new four-step test was introduced for the assessment of patentability:

  1. Properly construe the claim;
  2. Identify the actual contribution;
  3. Ask whether it falls solely within the excluded matter;
  4. Check whether the contribution is actually technical in nature.

Step 3 caused the patent to fall. The patent can cut fraud and enable gratuities to be paid by card at the same time as the principal sum; but the Hearing Officer wrote: “while they may be advantages of the invention, they are not achieved by technical means… They are achieved by changing the business process – i.e. changing the sequence of steps – in which the terminals are used. The claim is to how a business uses a known system.”

“The contribution falls squarely within the business method exclusion. It also falls within the computer program exclusion given its implementation by means of a computer program,” he concluded.

Ho hum. That sounds quite sensible to me. Although – as the title of this piece suggests – if you replace the K in UK with an S. Guess what? Yep. It’s protected by patent law.

There are some cracking comments on this post too. Well worth a read if you find the whole US/EU patent differences interesting. Especially when it comes to software and computing.

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