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A patent for the handling of gratuities in card payments has been revoked by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for being a business method implemented by a computer program.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.

US Patent Law and Microsoft – Jeez!!!

I found this link in an article entitled “Microsoft’s Advertising Framework” on Glyn Moody’s blog.

I have been following the Patent saber-rattling by Microsoft and their simultaneous attempt to own the world’s data by trying to force through impossible document standards with feelings of unease, hilarity and cynicism… All at the same time.

The Patent to which Glyn’s article refers is – in my humble and non-legal opinion – complete hogwash. It reads just like a description of any page in any of the world’s advertising driven content networks like Google’s for instance.

How this could be:

  • An Invention
  • Unique
  • Innovative
  • Unlikely to come about by evolution
  • Having no prior art

is a complete mystery to me. What is the US Patent Office thinking it is doing by approving such things?

There is a cracking bit of typical Microsoft legalease at the bottom of the page too; it’s a bit like a disclaimer and catchall rolled into one and basically seems to allow them to use this patent for pretty much anything to do with advertising presented on-screen…

[0038] Although the forgoing text sets forth a detailed description of numerous different embodiments of the invention, it should be understood that the scope of the invention is defined by the words of the claims set forth at the end of this patent. The detailed description is to be construed as exemplary only and does not describe every possibly embodiment of the invention because describing every possible embodiment would be impractical, if not impossible. Numerous alternative embodiments could be implemented, using either current technology or technology developed after the filing date of this patent, which would still fall within the scope of the claims defining the invention.

[0039] Thus, many modifications and variations may be made in the techniques and structures described and illustrated herein without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention. Accordingly, it should be understood that the methods and apparatus described herein are illustrative only and are not limiting upon the scope of the invention.

The US is a very mysterious place sometimes…