Clueless Judge rules against UK patent office and leaves the UK wide open to a software patent invasion

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

Here in Britain, we have largely escaped the insanity of software patents that afflicts the USA. We used to have a clear and unambiguous law that software-only inventions could not be patented. Those laws are – through design – open to interpretation by judges. Judges are undoubtedly clever people when it comes to understanding the law, but in the case of Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury and his cohorts Lord Justic Jacob and Lord Justice Maurice Kay, grasping simple technology concepts appears way too complex for them.

Nokia applied for a patent for a piece of software which makes other software run faster on a computer. The European Patent Office – which is also staffed by technological incompetents – duly awarded the patent, even though they should not have done so under EU patent law (not least do to prior art considerations). Thankfully our UK patent office applies the rules far better and threw the application out. So Nokia took the case to court. The appeal court has now ruled that a piece of software that makes a computer perform better is not just a software invention because “…it has the knock-on effect of the computer working better as a matter of practical reality.” So apparently “better” is now a technical term and any piece of software that makes a computer work better is patentable. In other words, any piece of software could be patented under this rule.

Software patents benefit no one but giant companies that can throw money at bamboozling patent offices into accepting their patent applications. It is far too costly in most situations for SMEs or individuals to apply for such patents. Europe – and especially Britain – has long fought to prevent US-style software patents becoming a reality here. Sadly all that effort may have been undone through the actions of one idiot judge. This is a good day for giant corporations; it is though a very bad day for SMEs and consumers. Hopefully the UK patent office will not give up and will take this to the House of Lords, who might finally see sense and throw the case out. I won’t hold my breath though…