UK Patent Office will now allow patents for "computer program products"
Until recently, the UK Intellectual Property Office has had a policy of refusing patent applications with claims directed to a computer program, or to a computer program on a carrier. In a practice note issued in November 2006, following the UK Court of Appeal rulings in the Aerotel and Macrossan cases, UK patent examiners were advised that such claims were not allowable. This put the practice of the UK office somewhat at odds with that of the European Patent Office, which for some time has adopted a more liberal approach to computer software patentability.
However, in the recent Astron Clinica case, the UK High Court held that if claims to a method performed by running a suitably programmed computer or to a computer programmed to carry out the method are allowable then, in principle, a claim to the program itself should also be allowable. The High Court stated that in these circumstances " the claim to the computer program must be drawn to reflect the features of the invention which would ensure the patentability of the method which the program is intended to carry out when it is run." Accordingly, the UK Intellectual Property Office has issued an updated practice note, reflecting this thinking.
The practice note makes it clear that "Where, but only where, these conditions are met, examiners will no longer object to claims to a computer program or a program on a carrier." In other respects, examiners will continue to follow the practice note of 2 November 2006.
This revised approach is to be welcomed as removing arbitrary restrictions on the patentability of computer software.