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UK Workshops on "Technical Effect" Wording
Sunday, February 06 2005 @ 05:42 AM EST

As you probably have heard, the pro-software patent groups are making headway and intend apparently to continue to push for the software patents directive, despite the JURI vote to restart the process, and Poland seems to be wearing out:

The Euro PAP web service of the Polish Press Agency (PAP) writes that the Draft of the Directive on Computer-Implemented Inventions is likely to be adopted on the 17 February meeting of the Council of Ministers of Finance as no country, including Poland, will block the vote.

The directive, even if passed this way, may still be revised during the second reading in the EU Parliament.

There are those working to define more stringently and precisely what software patents should and should not issue. Those located in the UK may wish to attend one of the series of workshops being hosted by the UK Patent Office:

Peter Hayward, divisional director at the Patent Office, commented: "We need to hear opinions from a broad range of interests - not just from patent attorneys and patent-owning software companies. The views of those software developers who work without patents are just as important to us."

The Patent Office says: "Participants will be shown a variety of definitions for 'technical contribution' and invited to work in groups to test these against a range of innovations. They will also be welcome to propose definitions of their own."

The first workshop will be on March 15 in Coventry, and those who wish to attend must register by Febuary 18. Dr Stupid thought it would be valuable to bring this to everyone's attention, so that all of you who wish to can make suggestions that those planning to attend one of the workshops can then take with them to present there.


What Is a "Technical Contribution" Anyhow?
by Dr Stupid

This is not so much an article, as a call for suggestions. UK-based Groklaw readers will doubtless have seen on this site and elsewhere that the UK Patent Office will be holding a number of "workshops" this spring to discuss the meaning of the phrase "technical contribution" as it appears in the draft EU directive on computer-implemented inventions.

[Note for non-EU readers: when a Directive is finally adopted, each member state must enact it into their domestic law. The interpretation of a directive's language is thus of more than academic interest.]

If the directive is passed in its current form, then the only obstacle to pure software patents in the UK will be to persuade the UKPO to adopt a sufficiently firm interpretation of "technical contribution." This is not a hopeless cause, since current UK law contains the same loopholes that the draft directive has, and yet the UKPO has rejected some software patent applications on the precise grounds that they were not "technical." See here.

If the directive is reworked, either by the European parliament or otherwise (as I personally hope it will), then the interpretation of "technical contribution" will still be important in the marginal areas between software and hardware; so it remains vital that we make our opinions heard. It was the forceful, but polite, expression of opinion at the previous workshop on this topic that led in part to this consultation exercise by the UKPO.

I know that some GL readers have already registered to attend. Others may be unable to attend, either for logistic reasons or because places are limited. Therefore this "story" has been created to enable all interested readers to post their suggestions. Those of us who are able to attend can then take your input with us.

The original thread started here, and I suggest you read the posts there if you haven't already. Obviously there is no need to repeat yourself (though I should really take my own advice more often, having just read through my posts.. ;)

One theme that recurred strongly in the comments to date was that the definition of "technical effect" should ensure that you cannot buy a stock PC from the High Street, take it home, and infringe a patent just by writing software for it. Such a definition would at a stroke block algorithmic software patents (e.g. compression & encryption algorithms), data format patents (e.g. network protocols, file formats) and "look and feel" patents (e.g. todo lists, mouse gestures) There may be other loopholes that need to be closed, though; and a definition based purely on reference to a canonical "stock PC" has its own problems of vagueness. So if you want to add your twopennyworth, please do so.

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