“Software” Patents in Europe

Well, to be precise, computer-implemented inventions under the European Patent Convention.

The Enlarged Board of Appeal has just issued a decision in referral G03/08 (for background see here). The Enlarged Board have decided that the referral is inadmissible. The accompanying opinion states that previous decisions of the Boards of Appeal are not sufficiently “different” (i.e. “conflicted”) to warrant clarification from the higher Enlarged Board.

Better men than I have summarised the decision here:

http://www.ipjur.com/blog2/index.php?/archives/150-EPO-EBoA-Opinion-in-re-G-0308-Patentability-Of-Computer-Implemented-Inventions.html

http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/2010/05/g-308-software-patents-decision-is-out.html

[Update] and here: http://www.iam-magazine.com/blog/Detail.aspx?g=cc296bce-5de8-484c-ac43-95d5b6ce68df featuring Gill Jennings & Every‘s Peter Finnie

To be honest, the decision was pretty much expected: the European Patent Office (EPO) has been taking a fairly consistent approach to computer-implemented inventions and has a growing body of learning materials on the subject. In fact, by no small coincidence, the book “Patent Law for Computer Scientists“, written by EPO Patent Examiners was released a few days ago. I have ordered a copy and will let you know if it is of any use. A review can be found here.

However, the opinion is not without merit. Its 60-odd pages set out the current state of the law on the issue and may provide a useful caselaw summary. I will attempt to read through the pages of dense courier font shortly.

Rule 70a EPC & Written Opinions

You have to love the level of clarity behind the EPO Rule Changes.
Blurry Train c/o Richard Eriksson
Take for example R.70a EPC and its application to International applications filed before 1 July 2005 for which no Written Opinion is drawn up:
  • New Rule 70a(2) EPC refers to the case “if a supplementary European search report is drawn up”. This implies that a response is required when a supplementary European search report is drawn up. However, the rule then discussing commenting on “the extended European search report” and “where appropriate…the opinion accompanying the European search report”. This implies that an opinion is required before a response under R.70a(2) EPC is required. So far, so vague.
Luckily, the (not-quite-complete, not-quite-draft) Guidelines for Examination (B XII 9) give us some handy guidance:

“There is, however, no requirement for the applicant to respond to the European or supplementary European search report where this was drawn up before 1 April 2010, where it is not accompanied by a search opinion (see XII, 1.1 for applications for which a search opinion is prepared) or where the search opinion was positive (see XII, 3.9).”

So basically the rule seems to be “no opinion, no response required”.

You can, however, file a response if you wish:

“…the applicant may still respond to the search report according to Rule 137(2) if he so wishes. In such cases, the applicant is encouraged to respond to the search report before the application enters the examination stage (see C-VI, 1.1). “

Time Limits & Volcanic Ash (R.134 EPC)

The European Patent Office has declared a dislocation in the delivery of mail from 15 to 28 April 2010.

As the dislocation affected inter alia Germany and the Netherlands, time limits to be observed vis-à-vis the EPO, which would have expired in the period from 15 to 28 April 2010, have been extended to 29 April 2010 (see Rule 134(2) EPC).

As far as time limits under the PCT are concerned, applicants are referred to Rule 82 PCT. This provision, however, does not apply to the priority period. If an international application was received at the EPO after expiry of the priority period, restoration of the right of priority may be available (Rule 26bis.3 PCT).