April came with nine new decisions in the EUROPEAN SOFTWARE PATENTS knowledge base relating to cloud computing, distributed systems, business methods, graphical user interfaces and search engines:

Patentable cloud computing innovations

Improvements in cloud computing and distributed computing techniques are regularly considered technical by the European Patent Office. For example, the EPO granted a software patent for a server load balancing technique based on mathematical calculations, since they were found to improve the server’s resource consumption.

A method of providing a unique identifier for identifying user groups without using a server was also found to be technical, although obvious in view of the prior art.

In another decision, assigning a fixed internet address to a terminal of a building management system which is securely attached to a building was found to provide a technical contribution, because the system was capable of determining that a user actually was in the building when a specific interaction with the terminal was conducted.

"The implementation of a user interface includes non-technical aspects of the GUI layout, e.g. the graphical design of menus or the positioning of a control button according to user preferences, but also technical aspects regarding the user-computer interaction"
Showing browsing options depending on number of search results: non-technical

More challenging: business methods

One decision related to a method for efficiently checking the consistency and completeness of selection conditions for components of a configurable product. On the one hand, the Board held that the task performed by claim 1 was of a non-technical nature. However, the specific claimed bit (sub-)matrices, bit strings and steps of the method, especially those of splitting the bit matrix, forming bit strings representing the selection and restriction conditions and determining inconsistent pairs of selection conditions when performed by parallel processing, were indeed found to contribute to the technical character. The case was remitted back to the first instance for reexamination of inventive step.

The same applied to a method of programming a currency tester, which was also remitted back to the first instance for further prosecution.

GUI software patents

In the field of graphical user interfaces, a method for video editing, more precisely for quickly and easily viewing two different video clips simultaneously, involved technical aspects regarding the user-computer interaction which went beyond a non-technical method for presentation of information. The invention was also found to be non-obvious and a European software patent was granted.

In an older decision, facilitating data exchange across different data formats with a clipboard function was considered to provide technical character, in particular when transferring non-file data, and a patent was granted.

How the EPO examines software patents

By the way, if you are interested in a deeper look into how the European Patent Office examines software-related inventions, this 30-minute video gives a concise overview of the “two hurdle” approach with lots of examples.

Patents for search engine techniques

In the field of data retrieval, a method of scoring search engine results based on history data was found to be non-technical, since assigning a score to a document based on the frequency and the amount of changes to the document was considered not to be a technical task.

Finally, one decision dealt with the graphical user interface of a search engine. Here, the basic idea was to check how many search results there are, and in case of only a few, to maximize the display area for those search results while minimizing another display area that normally shows browsing options. In this case, the Board ruled that the layout of the areas in the display and the emphasizing of specific areas are non-technical aspects of the invention.

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