Posts Tagged ‘software’

Software patents in the USA

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument on the question of the patentability of Alice Corporation’s software system for a method of payment, in denying the validity of which 10 judges of the Federal Circuit famously came up with 7 different opinions.

Several patents and claims are in issue, all relating to a computerized trading platform used for conducting financial transactions in which a third party settles obligations between a first and a second party so as to eliminate “counterparty” or “settlement” risk.

The question presented:

Whether claims to computer-implemented inventions-including claims to systems and machines, processes, and items of manufacture-are directed to patent-eligible subject matter within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 101 as interpreted by this Court?

As petitioner, the patentee (Alice Corp) will argue first. Respondent’s time will be split between CLS Bank and the US Government who has filed an amicus brief highlighting a misguided argument that “the abstract idea exception is patent law’s sole mechanism for excluding claims directed to manipulation of non-technological concepts and relationships.”

Transcript here. Some extracts here

One interesting point: the questioning of the advocates about which of the competing options proposed by the amici they preferred as solutions to the issue.

Summary of briefs with links to the briefs

Washington Post preview

Our own battles in this front are still proceeding with a decision awaited in the Research Affiliates appeal and RPL Central.

Meanwhile the USPTO has issued revised guidelines: 2014 Procedure For Subject Matter Eligibility Analysis Of Claims Reciting Or Involving
Laws Of Nature/Natural Principles, Natural Phenomena, And/Or Natural Products
.

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Alice corp

Monday, December 9th, 2013

The Full Federal Court has reserved its decision in Research Affiliates’ appeal; the Commissioner’s appeal in RPL Central is still pending.[1]

In the USA, Alice Corp. had a patent for a computerised method of reducing “settlement risk”, a type of escrow arrangement: the 10 judges in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals came up with 5 different opinions of which Justice Newman memorably said:

[The 5 judgments have] propounded at least three incompatible standards, devoid of consensus, serving simply to add to the unreliability and cost of the system of patents as an incentive for innovation. With today’s judicial deadlock, the only assurance is that any successful innovation is likely to be challenged in opportunistic litigation, whose result will depend on the random selection of the panel.

Now, the US Supreme Court has agreed to try to sort it out.

ALICE CORPORATION PTY. LTD. V. CLS BANK INTERNATIONAL, ET AL., Docket No. 13–298 (Supreme Court 2013) via Patently-O


  1. The Full Court has also reserved in Cancer Voices re isolated DNA (although one might think there’s little scope for that to get up after Apotex v Sanofi.  ?
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Business method patents: Federal Court retreating?

Friday, February 15th, 2013

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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Use of Software and those computer defences again

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

You’ll recall that SAG licensed its database software to RWWA. RWWA engaged KAZ to provide disaster recovery services and installed a copy of the software on KAZ’ off-site servers. Meckerracher J dismissed SAG’s claim that this was unlicensed and therefore infringement of its copyright. (link via my attempt to summarise here).

The Full Court has substantially dismissed the appeal, but found the judge was wrong to the extent his Honour considered s 47F of the Copyright Act 1968 would have provided a defence also.

On the question of licence construction, their Honours found that the proposed use fell within the terms of the licensed use “for … emergency restart purposes“:

34 The phrase “for … emergency restart purposes” is more ample than, for example, “in order to restart the System in an emergency”. A penumbra surrounds “emergency restart”. It is a natural reading of the composite phrase to include within its coverage testing whether the copied System will restart should an emergency occur.

35 If one were to regard the phrase “for … emergency restart purposes” as open to two constructions, SAG’s construction, in our view, results in a meaning that would be unreasonable or inconvenient. The purpose behind clause 12.3 is to protect RWWA from serious loss in an emergency, whether caused by a breakdown of its mainframe or some external event putting it out of action. It would be an unreasonable and inconvenient result if RWWA were to be unable to take sensible steps to make it more likely that the purpose behind clause 12.3 would be achieved, by testing the copied system in order to maximise the chance of the restart occurring in the event of an emergency arising.

36 Further, we agree with the primary judge’s observation quoted at [28] that SAG’s interpretation would make clause 12.3 a pointless exception to the other prohibitive or restrictive provisions of the agreement, and that such a construction would provide very little scope for achieving the purpose of clause 12.3 described above.

The expert evidence was also consistent with this.

While the Licence Agreement did (by clause 1.4) expressly prohibit the software being installed at any location other than the “designated location”, the clause had to be read in context and clause 12.3, as SAG acknowledged, did permit RWWA to use the software “for archival or emergency restart purposes”. Clause 1.2,which prohibited “use” on anything other than the designated hardware, similarly had to be read down.

If the terms of the licence had not been capable of construction to permit this (fairly typical) type of disaster recovery strategy, however, s 47F would not have protected RWWA. S 47F provides a limited defence for “security testing”. However:

55 What s 47F(1) permits is the reproduction of the original copy for the purpose of testing the security of that copy. The original copy is the copy RWWA is licensed to use. The permitted testing is of the security of that copy. The passages from the primary judge’s reasons quoted at [49] appear to us to be saying that the testing of the functionality of the DR Copy at the DR Site is the testing of the security of the original copy at Osborne Park. That, in our view, is not what s 47F(1) authorises. On the facts of this case, what it permits is the making of a copy of the installed copy at Osborne Park for the purpose of testing the security of the installed copy. As it seems to us, the primary judge’s construction of the provision enables the DR Copy at the DR Site to be tested so as to determine its efficacy should the installed copy at Osborne Park for some reason be no longer available.

and, given the unchallenged expert evidence on the issue:

68 For the above reasons we are unable to accept RWWA’s contention, which the primary judge appears to have adopted, that “testing … the security of the original copy” extends to what was done at the DR Site, namely testing of the DR Copy to ensure that the System would be capable of being restarted and operated without the loss of data. In our view, “testing … the security of the original copy” should be confined to testing the original to ascertain its security from unauthorised access or against electronic or other invasion.

The Court noted, but did not need to consider the correctness, of his Honour’s conclusion that s 47C would also have protected RWWA.

So, an appellate level illustration providing some confirmation of how strictly the the Courts will approach the gobbledygook enacted in the special computer program defences. Make sure you draft your software licences to provide the protection actually needed – especially if the software needs to be used in a “disaster recovery” situation.

Software AG (Australia) Pty Ltd v Racing & Wagering Western Australia [2009] FCAFC 36 (Spender, Sundberg and Siopis JJ)

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Pirated software at work

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Over at Slashdot you will find some thoughtful (and practical) suggestions about what to do (from the in-house IT guy’s perspective) if you (or your client) finds pirated software at work – be warned, you have to scroll through the usual behind the shelter shed contributions.

Lid dip: Marty

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bing infringed BING!

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

The applicant had registered BING! for

Class 9 Software for the legal profession and other industries and professions not limited in any way to a specific industry or commercial sector; Class 35 Distribution and sales of computer software.

Class 42 Design of computer software; programming maintenance, upgrading and updating of computer software for the legal profession and other industries and professions not limited in any way to a specific industry or commercial sector…

The respondent provided an internet postal service.  To enable subscribers to use the service, it supplied them with software to be downloaded and installed on the subscribers’ own computers.  

The first respondent’s promotional material uses the trade mark “bing” in relation to its software, and through installation and use of the software, the trade mark “bing” appears on the computer screen in various guises. It is clear from the respondents’ own evidence that the first respondent uses the mark “bing” in relation to at least software (class 9); distribution of computer software (class 35), and updating of computer software (class 42).

The software distributed by the first respondent has a number of components including “bing Client”, “bing Virtual Printer Driver”, “Popup bing Mailroom”, “Control bing Printer”, and “bing Help”.

Customers of the first respondent enter a software license agreement in respect of the software (and updates) provided to the customer by the first respondent under the name “bing”. Further, the software licence agreements refer frequently therein to “bing”.

Collier J rejected the argument that “bing” in its various guises was substantially identical to BING!, but found deceptive similarity.  Of potentially greater significance, her Honour went on to find that the respondent was using the “bing” mark in relation to goods and services covered by the applicant’s trade mark registration:

First:

52 …. I agree with the respondents that the first respondent is engaged in the provision of internet postal services, which prima facie are not goods or services in respect of which the applicant’s trade mark is registered. However I consider it is also clear that, as Mr Franklin submitted, the first respondent’s service is, in the manner in which it is conducted with the majority of its clients, a software-enabled service. While customers can access the first respondent’s service without specific software (an issue to which I will return later in the judgment), the first respondent provides software, bearing the trade mark “bing”, to customers to allow the customers to effect the internet postal service it provides, and to access that service.

Then, MID Sydney was distinguished:

57 So far as concerns the software provided by the first respondent to its customers bearing the moniker “bing”, in my view that software is a “good” which is both severable from the internet postal service, and would in other circumstances be capable of being the subject of a registered trade mark in its own right within Class 9. Similarly, distributing and updating that software are “services” within classes 35 and 42. The software supplied by the first respondent, and the services provided by the first respondent in support thereof, are not, to draw an analogy with MID Sydney 90 FCR 236, goods or services which lose their features as software because they form part of an overall broader service. The software remains software, which requires distribution and updating, no matter that it is used in connection with the first respondent’s internet postal service.

as was the SAP case relied on by the respondent

61 Where the analogy between these proceedings and SAP Australia 169 ALR 1 breaks down is that while the Full Court accepted in SAP Australia that “broadly based consulting services” could include supplementary training as an adjunct to the provision of custom designed computer systems for clients, in this case it does not follow that software provided by the first respondent is no more than an incident to the provision of its service. As I noted earlier, the software used by the first respondent is a product in its own right – the copyright therein is owned by a third party, and the first respondent has exclusive distribution rights (TS 66 ll 12-13). The first respondent provides the software even though, as Mr Cranitch conceded during cross-examination, the first respondent has some clients who do not use the software, but send to the first respondent documents in the form of PDF files, word documents and publisher documents (TS 71 ll 40-41). The software and associated services are an important part of the first respondent’s internet postal service.

62 In ascertaining whether software is “incidental” to its internet postal service as submitted by the first respondent, it is useful to test the first respondent’s hypothesis in this way. Computer hardware cannot properly function without the benefit of software. Yet it could scarcely be said in relation to a computer that software loaded on to a computer hard drive was “incidental” to the computer itself, merely because the software allowed the computer to operate in certain ways. This is clear from the many cases involving claims of infringement of trade mark with respect to software (for example, Microsoft Corporation v PC Club Australia Pty Ltd [2005] FCA 1522 and Microsoft Corporation v Ezy Loans Pty Ltd (2005) 62 IPR 54).

63 Software is pervasive in twenty-first century Australia. In the words of one writer:

In case you have not noticed, software is now a key part of our social structure — we sense it in our cars, in our supermarkets, in our televisions, in our computers — we sense it everywhere; it is a ubiquitous, undulating, architectural, air like, water like commodity that infiltrates our daily lives. (Brian Fitzgerald, “Software as discourse?: A constitutionalism for information society (1999) AltLJ 25)

64 However its omnipresence does not, in itself, mean that it fulfils an incidental role in relation to functionalities such as the service provided by the first respondent. Further, the fact that the software used by the first respondent is not sold by the first respondent, or indeed that it has no operation other than in relation to the first respondent’s service, does not mean that it is not “software” for the purposes of classes 9, 35 and 42 for which the applicant has a statutory monopoly.

Collier J then found Mr Crainitch, the managing director, CEO and company secretary of the first respondent, liable for authorising, directing or procuring the corporate respondent’s infringements.  Her Honour dismissed the allegations of contraventions of s 52 and 53 of the Trade Practices Act and passing off.

An application to re-open the case after judgment was reserved was dismissed here and the final form of relief granted is here.  It would appear that the respondents could continue the postal service under the name “bing” if they can come up with a new name for their software.

Bing! Software Pty Ltd v Bing Technologies Pty Limited (No 1) [2008] FCA 1760 

Prof. Mark Davison reminded me that her Honour refused to award damages and points out a possible defence that the respondents might have explored here.

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Patenting software in the UK (Europe)

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

The UK Court of Appeal has apparently broadened the scope to patent computer software:

Symbian Limited v. Comptroller General of Patents [2008] EWCA Civ 1066

Paul Cole guest posts at Patently-O. IPKat extensively here.

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