On 8 October 2008, the UK Court of Appeal handed down a decision dismissing an appeal by the UK Intellectual Property Office against an earlier decision of the UK High Court to allow a patent application for a computer software program by Symbian Ltd. The application relates to a method of operating a computer device to access data held in a dynamic link library (DLL).
Prior to this decision, the UK Court of Appeal’s 2006 decision in the Macrossan and Aerotel matters resulted in the UK Intellectual Property Office applying an overly restrictive approach for determining patentability of computer software inventions. In particular, such inventions were required to produce a technical effect or contribution external to the computer.
In the Symbian decision, the UK Court of Appeal decided that the claimed invention did make a technical contribution and that a computer performing the computer software program would be improved and may, for example, provide a faster or more reliable computer.
In reaching the decision, the UK Court of Appeal reviewed a number European Boards of Appeal decisions regarding patentability of computer software inventions and stated that upholding refusal of a patent would “involve the English courts departing from all the decisions of the Board [EPO Board of Appeal]”. Accordingly, it is likely that the UK Intellectual Property Office’s future practice in relation to patentability of computer software inventions will converge towards that of the European Patent Office.
The Symbian decision is expected to result in a greater number of computer software patents being granted in the UK.