High Court rules computer simulations CAN obtain patent protection

Barry Riley

In a recent decision the High Court has held that computer simulations of designs are not unpatentable mental acts.

The Court said that the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) had wrongly applied UK patent law when assessing four patent applications for computer simulations of designs made by Halliburton Energy. The IPO had ruled that the company’s computer simulations were mental acts which cannot be patented under the UK’s Patents Act.

Under the Act, inventions must be new, take an inventive step that is not obvious, and be useful to industry in order to qualify for patent protection. An invention cannot be patented, according to the Patents Act, if it is “a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer”. Other inventions that cannot be patented include “a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method”.

The IPO had rejected Halliburton’s patent applications for computer simulations. The simulations related to improving designs for the workings of engineering drill bits in the oil industry.

The IPO had wrongly considered the company’s claims by assessing whether they were “capable of being performed mentally” rather than “in fact performed mentally”, the High Court said. Mr Justice Birss QC said that Halliburton’s inventions were not subject to any of the other exemptions to patentability. It said that the inventions merged mathematical calculations with computer software and were sufficiently technical to be considered patentable.

The IPO has indicated that it is unlikely to appeal the ruling.

The decision should give Halliburton four patents with a good commercial scope, and is encouraging news for others in the same field.

Barry Riley
briley@metcalfes.co.uk
DDI – 0117 9453 042

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