Court rejects patent for form-filling program

Australian patent-seeker's defeat at the Court of Appeal is welcomed by campaigners against software patents
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

An Australian who tried to patent a form-filling application which enabled entrepreneurs to legally create a UK business from scratch suffered a defeat at the Court of Appeal on Friday morning.

Neal Macrossan had been trying to patent the application, which uses a series of increasingly focused online questions to automatically generate and register the documents needed to set up a company under UK law.

But in a short appeal hearing on Friday, the case was dismissed.

Macrossan had launched the appeal after the UK High Court ruled against the patent application in a hearing back in April.

The European Patent Convention, created in 1973, says that it is not possible to patent computer programs nor "rules, schemes and methods for doing business".

The result of Friday's case brought a sigh of relief from some industry-watchers, who were concerned that if Macrossan had been granted a patent, many more successful patents would inevitably have followed. That would have harmed innovation among software makers in the UK, according to those critical of patents for software and business processes.

"It would have been a disaster if Macrossan was said to be patentable, because every business method under the sun would have been patentable," said Rufus Pollock, director of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the development of information goods for public benefit.

The Convention's rules do allow patents to be granted for hardware which has been programmed — but that condition only exists in select circumstances.

Earlier this year, Appeal Court judge Sir Robin Jacob criticised the US for allowing software to be patented.

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