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Reviewed 23 December 2008

Court of Appeal Judgment on Patentability of Computer Programs and Business Methods

The Court of Appeal has today issued an important judgment in two cases, Aerotel v Telco and Macrossan’s Application. It lays down a clearer approach for determining whether, in United Kingdom (UK) law, an invention is not patentable because it is a computer program or business method as such.

This judgment is important because previous case law had left many users unclear as to the correct test for patentability. The approach now laid down by the Court of Appeal should remove much of the confusion that had developed. It will be binding on both the High Court and The Patent Office.

The Patent Office is considering the implications of the judgment and will issue a Practice Notice within the next few days setting out how examiners will assess patent applications in future.

Editors' notes:

1. UK law does not allow patents to be granted for some types of innovation. Some computer-implemented inventions are patentable whilst others are not.  This is because software straddles the technological and business worlds. It uses technology, that is computers, but often for non-technical purposes. Whether a computer-implemented invention is patentable depends on the contribution the invention makes. For example, if it provides improved control of a car braking system, it is likely to be patentable, but if it merely provides an improved accounting system, it is probably not patentable.

2. The law on what is patentable is broadly the same across the whole of the European Community, so if something is unpatentable under United Kingdom law, it will also usually be unpatentable elsewhere in Europe. However there has been considerable debate about how the test is applied in different countries and by the European Patent Office, which grants patents covering all European countries. In some other countries, notably the United States and Japan, the laws allow a wider range of computer-implemented inventions to be patented.

3. The judgment PDF document(236Kb).

Date of release: 27 October 2006

See Also