The UK Intellectual Property Office has ruled in favour of an application for an invention implemented in software, and therefore complies with section 1(2) of the 1977 Patent Act. The controversy involves patent application GB2407893A by Nokia which protects “a method of rapid software application development for a wireless mobile device”. The heart of the claim is distilled on claim 1 of the application:
“1. A method of software application development for a wireless mobile device, the application being a networked application, in which the wireless mobile device is capable of communicating with a server over one or more types of network connection; the method comprising the steps of:
(a) a developer using an interface on a computer remote from the wireless mobile device to call, over one of the network connections, modular software elements resident on the wireless mobile device, the modular elements each (i) encapsulating functionality required by the wireless mobile device and (ii) capable of executing on the wireless mobile device under the control of an interpreter running on the device; and
(b) the developer causing modular software elements on the wireless mobile device to be combined using scripts composed on the computer and transferred to the device.”
As far as I get it (and I am not at all familiar with mobile operating systems), the patent application is for a computer program that allows dynamic modification of software in a mobile device by either direct communication with a computer interface, or by the sending in of code and mixing it with pre-existing elements within the device. Sort of interesting concept, but not earth-shattering in my opinion; is this not implemented in most smart phones? Where is the novelty?
Anyway, the examiner believes that the claim involves such a technical step as to improve on the prior art, and does not fall foul of the ineligible subject matter. He concludes that:
“To my mind, what the present applicants have contributed is a way of controlling the interaction between a mobile phone and a remote computer in such a way that the functionality of the mobile can be changed whilst avoiding the technical problems inherent in the prior art ways of doing that – namely an inadequate interface on the phone or an imperfect emulator on the remote computer. In my view, the particular way that the present invention overcomes the technical problems inherent in the prior art provides a technical contribution. Thus whilst the invention may be implemented in software it provides a technical contribution such that it is more than a program for a computer as such.”
As I said, I am not certain that this involves an innovative step, but I am not familiar with the field. However, it is interesting that the ripples from the Symbian decision are starting to be felt. Symbian pretty much allowed computer programs as such to be patentable if they fulfill all other patent requirements.
I surprise myself by saying this, but I find this particular application specific enough not to bother me too much. As I do not know enough about the mobile software environment, I also cannot really comment about the specific claim. It does not seem particularly novel to me, but what do I know?
Anyway, we are certainly achieving more harmonisation with EPO practice, which was the tangible result of Symbian.