Business method patents: Federal Court retreating?

Emmett J has dismissed Research Associates’ appeal from the Commissioner’s rejection of an attempt to patent a method for calculating an Index for using in financial investing.

Claim 1 was for:

A computer-implemented method for generating an index, the method including steps of:

(a) accessing data relating to a plurality of assets;

(b) processing the data thereby to identify a selection of the assets for inclusion in the index based on an objective measure of scale other than share price, market capitalization and any combination thereof;

(c) accessing a weighting function configured to weight the selected assets;

(d) applying the weighting function, thereby to assign to each of the selected assets a respective weighting, wherein the weighting:

(i) is based on an objective measure of scale other than share price, market capitalization and any combination thereof; and

(ii) is not based on market capitalization weighting, equal weighting, share price weighting and any combination thereof, thereby to generate the index.

Emmett J held that this was not a manner of manufacture as required by s 18(1)(a) of the Patents Act 1990.

His Honour appears to have rejected this on a number of bases. First, his Honour appears to have characterised the claim as akin to a mere scheme, abstract idea or mere information and not resulting in a physical effect or physical effect of the right kind:

65. A mere scheme, abstract idea, or mere information, is not, of itself, patentable. Some physical effect is required. Thus, where the representation of a curve, or the representation of Chinese language characters, or the writing of information to a smart card, is produced by a computer, there is a component physically affected or a change in state in a part of a machine, which makes the invention patentable.

66. Research Affiliates accepts that the only physical result generated by the method of the claimed invention is a computer file containing the index. That is because the method is implemented by means of a computer. Research Affiliates places significance on the fact that the result of the claimed method is the generation of the index by a computer.

67. However, the index generated is nothing more than a set of data. The index is simply information: it is a set of numbers. It is no more a manner of manufacture than a bank balance, whether represented as data in a bank’s computer, written on a piece of paper or kept in a person’s memory. While it is true that the index may be stored in the computer’s RAM, or on a memory device, or can be transmitted, that can be said of any data generated by a computer. If that were sufficient to satisfy the requirement of an artificially created state of affairs, any computer-implemented scheme would be patentable, merely by reason of the fact that it happens to be implemented by a computer. (emphasis supplied)

Secondly, in what might be a foreshadowing of the Raising the Bar amendments about to come into force, Emmett J was highly critical of the level of disclosure of how to implement the alleged invention:

68. While the Specification appears to be intended to create the impression of detailed computer implementation, the Specification says almost nothing about how that is to be done. The reliance placed on the Colonial Index embodiment is a good example of what is not in the Specification. The discussion in the Specification provides no substantive detail regarding the implementation of the claimed method. The upshot of the discussion is merely that the method is implemented by a computer, but there is no disclosure of how that is to be done.

….

70. The method of the claimed invention does not involve a specific effect being generated by the computer. The mere use of a computer necessarily carries with it the writing of information into the computer’s memory. There is a stark contrast between a computer-generated curve, or a representation of Chinese characters, or the writing of particular information on a smart card, on the one hand, and the quite unspecific index, on the other. There is no practical application in the method of the claimed invention for the improved use of computers. The effect of the implementation of the method is not to improve the operation of or effect of the use of the computer. There is nothing in the Specification or claim 1 that discloses how to produce the index. Thus, there is nothing in the Specification or claim 1 to indicate:

  • how data is accessed in step 1;
  • the nature of the processing undertaken in step 2 to identify the selection of assets;
  • how the weighting function is accessed in step 3;
  • how the relevant measure of scale is chosen in step 4; or
  • how the weighting function is applied in step 4 to assign a weighting to each asset.

71. The case propounded by Research Affiliates depends upon the proposition that information of economic significance, once entered into or produced by means of a computer, becomes an economically valuable artificially created state of affairs, and thus patentable. That proposition must be rejected.

Thirdly, Emmett J found that the alleged invention lacked the necessary quality of “newness” or “inventiveness” on the face of the Specification:

72. The implementation of the method of the claimed invention by means of a computer, at the level articulated in claim 1, is no more than the modern equivalent of writing down the index on pieces of paper. On the face of the Specification, there is no patentable invention in the fact that the claimed method is implemented by means of a computer. The Specification asserts a patentable invention, not in the use of the computer, but in the particular series of steps that give rise to the generation of the index. Those steps could readily have been carried out manually. The aspect of computer implementation is nothing more than the use of a computer for a purpose for which it is suitable. That does not confer patentability.

This suggests a considerable broadening of what constitutes the “face of the Specification” as comprehended in, for example, Bristol-Myers Squibb v Faulding‘s attempted reconciliation of Ramset and Mirabella. Emmett J concluded with what might, with respect, be thought to be an unobjectionable proposition:

73. The enquiry into what constitutes a patentable invention is still evolving. It is not to be tied to particular notions of what was understood to be a manufacture at any particular point in time. However, while new developments in technology might be seen to widen the notion of what is patentable, the modern availability of computers as a standard means of implementing arithmetic or computational processes, which could have been implemented manually in the past, does not carry with it any broadening of the concept of a patentable invention.

On this approach, perhaps, the Court, or the Commissioner, could have concluded readily that the alleged invention, as characterised by Emmett J would fail the inventive step requirement in s 18(1)(b)(ii) without resort to the manner of manufacture “threshold”.

Research Affiliates LLC v Commissioner of Patents [2013] FCA 71

Dr Summerfield, over at Patentology, explores matters in detail.

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