Symbian wins software-patent ruling

The company has won the right to patent a piece of accelerator code in the UK, after a High Court ruling found the application did not contravene the UK Patents Act

Symbian has won the right to patent a piece of accelerator software in the UK.

Previously, UK patent law has prohibited computer code being awarded a patent, but on Wednesday a High Court ruling found that Symbian's 'Mapping dynamic link libraries in a computing device' application did not contravene the UK Patents Act.

As the software produced an effect on other pieces of technology, by potentially making dynamic link libraries (DLL) work more efficiently, the Court of Appeal found that the accelerator program was eligible for a patent.

"A computer with this program operates better than a similar prior art computer," said the ruling. "To say 'Oh but that is only because it is a better program — the computer itself is unchanged' gives no credit to the practical reality of what is achieved by the program. As a matter of such reality there is more than just a 'better program', there is a faster and more reliable computer."

Legal commentators said that the ruling could make it easier for companies to get UK patents for software. The IPKat legal blog on Wednesday said that now "the UK-IPO will inevitably now have to change its mind on how it deals with software patents".

"[The UK-IPO] will now be confronted with frustrated applicants who will have some serious ammunition to use against refusals," said IPKat. "The result of this decision will therefore have the effect that the pendulum will be swinging back towards applicants for software patents in the UK, and away from those who would prefer to shut down the possibility of software being patentable in any guise."

Those who are against software patents, such as the Open Rights Group (ORG), argue that patents stifle innovation.

"Unlike copyright, patents can block independent creations," said ORG. "Software patents can render software copyright useless. One copyrighted work can be covered by hundreds of patents of which the author doesn't even know but for whose infringement he and his users can be sued."

Companies that are in favour of software patents include Microsoft, which encourages companies to licence software from patent owners.