May came with seven new decisions in the EUROPEAN SOFTWARE PATENTS knowledge base relating to graphical user interfaces, navigation systems, computer games, business methods, video processing, programming and cryptography:
Patents for graphical user interfaces
Improvements in graphical user interfaces are sometimes difficult to protect with patents when they are closely related to the presentation of information (which is as such excluded from patentability).
In one case, however, the Board of Appeal decided that displaying a 3D bird’s eye view map, e.g. in a car navigation system, and the associated calculation steps are technical and thus enter into the inventive step assessment. An important finding was that displaying information in an ergonomically improved manner is indeed a technical purpose.
In another decision relating to GUIs in video games, the European Patent Office granted a software patent on graphical layout aspects of a video game which improved its functional quality. One of the aspects of the invention related to making a possibly concealed indicator clearly visible on a display screen to the user of an interactive video game.
As a negative example in the realm of navigation systems, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent for a navigation system that can be tailored to a user’s particular wishes.
Business method patents
In one recent decision, the Board of Appeal considered a method for determining a reference reading from a load cell of a cash till as technical and remitted the case back to the examining division. The Board emphasized the basic principle that a computer-implemented method may have a technical character provided that the method is functionally limited to a technical purpose.
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 audio / video / image processing
Just recently, the European Patent Office granted a software patent on improving the recognition of songs or background music in a video by using closed-captioning data for determining an audio segment that is relatively free of interference. The Board held that improving the recognition of songs or background music is a technical problem.
The act of programming in itself is regularly regarded to be a mental activity devoid of technical character. In this decision, several method steps for generating a parallel computation graph were found to be non-technical, since the mere potential for a speed-up by parallelization of a computer program is not sufficient for arguing a “further” technical effect.
Although normally based on mathematical concepts, inventions in the field of applied cryptography are regularly allowed by the European Patent Office. For example, in this case the Board of Appeal considered a mathematical method of masking a private key technical. More precisely, the Board decided that protecting a cryptographic computation against power attacks is a technical problem if, and only if, the computation is actually carried out on hardware and thus open to such attacks.
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Bastian is a European patent attorney and a partner at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.