2004 UK government in court over pupil data managment patent
In 2004 the UK Department for Education and Skills (!DfES) sought to challenge a software patent EP 0664061 held by Bromcom/Frontline Technology on transmitting student data by wireless network. !DfES achieved partial success in June 2004, and settled with Frontline at the end of 2005, after the software patent directive was rejected.
News & Chronology
2006-01-09 UK !DfES informs the education authorities of the settlement (PDF)
2005-12-12 UK Frontline Ltd: Frontline Technology Ltd assigns UK Patent 0664 061 to the DfES in settlement to end long running patent dispute (!DfES buys in smoking ruins of Bromcom patent)
2004-06-17 UK Court hands down judgment, both sides claim victory
2002-11-12 UK !DfES takes legal advice, contacts Bromcom and writes letter to all local education authorities (PDF)
summarized the Government guidance James Heald as follows: Although claim 7 of the patent was upheld (regarding use of Bromcom's wireless protocol), the Government is advising that WiFi does not infringe, regardless of the software package.
The Department for Education & Skills statement on the case says:
- "The judgment following the patent action trial was handed down today. The Department is pleased that it has substantially won its case and achieved its purpose in taking this action. More detailed guidance on the practical application of the judgment is being prepared and this will be published as soon as possible. Copies of the judgment will be available through the Courts Service."
Frontline Technology says on its front page
- "We are pleased that the inventiveness of the FTL patent has been upheld. This is despite the fact that the judge found the patent to be partially invalid. We are also pleased that the vast majority of the grounds of attack made by the Department were thrown out by the court. "
This was later changed to
- "We are pleased that the inventiveness of the Frontline patent (European Patent: EP 0664 061) has been upheld and DfES have failed to overturn the Patent We are also pleased that the vast majority of the grounds of attack made by the Department were thrown out by the court. This is despite the fact that the judge found two of the claims to be invalid."
It carries on thus:
- "We will be studying the judgement and its implications with our advisers. More details on the practical implications of the judgement will be published on this web site as soon as possible. Patents for the same invention remain valid in their original form in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States of America."
Has there ever been an attempt at enforcing them?
More on the case comes from IPKat, which specifically notes that core Claims 1 & 2 were revoked.
Interesting spin by Frontline. Maybe it's true that the "vast majority of the grounds of attack" were rejected, but if a single argument against is held valid, that could demolish the patent, or at least make it so narrow as to be useless.
The !DfES has now issued guidance to schools, basically saying that a school running a wireless network using standard non-specialist wi-fi equipment (conforming to 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g standards) would not be infringing the Frontline patent. Original is a Word document, link is to Google cache HTML version.
August 14: Frontline says it intends to amend the patent
September 28: Belated article in The Guardian on the court case.
Richard Allan MP, the Liberal Democrat Information Technology Spokesman, who has been campaigning actively for the Directive to be amended has raised this in correspondence Jacqui Smith MP, the minister representing the UK at the Competitiveness Council to try and persuade her to reconsider the Government's support for the current draft of the Directive: