UKPO Workshops on Definitions for "Technical Contribution"
The UK Patent Office has, at the order of minister Lord Sainsbury, conducted a series of workshops with the aim of finding a tighter definition of "technical contribution" that would draw the line where Sainsbury said it should be drawn, assuming that this problem is solely to be solved by a definition. Even though FFII UK proposed a definition that matched Sainsbury's stated aims, the UKPO officials proved unwilling to accept anything that would change their practise of granting patents on web browsing and office communication software algorithms.
News & Chronology
2005-05-29 UK Slashdot: UKPO Workshops Find EU Patent Directive Faulty
2005-05-28 UK ZDNet UK: UK workshops find patent directive faulty
2005-05-25 UK UKPO: Report on the Technical Contribution Workshops (PDF)
2005-04-15 UK FFII UK Statement on Results of UKPO Workshops
2005-04-08 UK ZDNet UK: Patent directive slammed at UKPO workshop
FFII PR about the event
London, 4 February 2005 -- The Patent Office has today announced a series of workshops to examine the possibility of a more concrete definition of "technical contribution" in the Software Patent directive (NB: Registration deadline 18 February)
FFII warmly welcomes this development as a very positive and constructive move by the Minister and the Patent Office.
The whole point of the Directive is that it should clearly define what is and what is not a "technical contribution" and therefore patentable. Our biggest concern with the logjammed Council of Ministers text has been that it just defines "technical contribution" as a contribution which is technical... which could be bent to mean anything at all. So it is very encouraging that the Minister does seem prepared to have a serious look at this, and that there is flexibility in the UK position, to try to get the wording right.
FFII has been asked to submit such a definition to be examined, along with others, firstly for clarity/definitiveness, and secondly in relation to the current economic status quo. Our exact wording is still being reviewed, but it is likely that FFII will offer a text close to the following. We look forward to hearing the discussion it gets from workshop-goers:
- "Technical contribution" means a contribution made by a claimed invention, considered as a whole, to the state of the art in a field of technology. "Technical" means belonging to a field of technology. New teaching about the use of controllable forces of nature under the control of a computer program, beyond the implementation of the data processing procedure itself, is technical. The processing, handling, and presentation of information by a computer program is not technical, even where technical devices are employed for such purposes.
We believe that this gets very close to satisfying Lord Sainsbury's wishlist from the meeting at the DTI in December, to establish a distinction between
- "patentable: traffic control; medical imaging; washing machines; bread makers; robot arms; mobile phones; and vehicle software. not patentable: accounting packages; spread sheets; translation software; computer aided design; internet trading; portfolio management; online auctions,"
-- so long as the patent claim in the first group does result in a genuinely different physical process achieved through the computer control.
(Note that for the claimed invention to be patentable, the technical contribution would also have to be new and non-obvious -- ie it must make an inventive step).
However, the point of the workshops is to examine the pros and cons of lots of different possible wordings -- it's not a vote -- so if you think that there is a clearer way to draw the line, then make the most of the Patent Office's invitation, and submit it.