UK workshops find patent directive faulty

Those who attended Patent Office workshop around Britain have highlighted problems with the EU software directive, but a change in UK policy doesn't appear likely

Workshops held by the UK Patent Office (UKPO) around the country have found that the definition of technical contribution in the software patent directive would let through too many patents, according to the UKPO on Friday.

The minister for science and innovation, Lord Sainsbury, and the UKPO agreed to hold the workshops after a public meeting at the end of last year, where software companies and developers expressed their concern about the directive, officially known as the directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions.

The conclusion from the 13 workshops, which were attended by over 300 people, were that the definition of technical contribution in the directive is "ambiguous and too liberal", the UKPO said.

The attendees of the workshop discussed in groups a number of fictional patent claims and assessed whether various definitions of technical contribution would allow these patents to be passed. Of the nine fictitious case studies that the UKPO said should not have been patentable, four were let through by the directive's definition and only two were disallowed, with the remaining three leaving the workshop attendees unsure, according to the results on the UKPO Web site.

Steve Probert, deputy director at UKPO, admitted that a better definition may be found by modifying the current definition but said the UKPO cannot change the UK's political policy on this.

"As far as we're concerned there's nothing more we can do at the moment," Probert told ZDNet UK. "It is very much a political football between [European] Parliament, the Presidency and the [EU] Council. As far as I know the government still stands fully behind the text agreed by the Council."

The UKPO has a policy division that advises the government on legislation related to intellectual property. Probert was unable to say whether the UKPO's policy division would update its policy following the workshops, but he said the results may influence what its advice to government in future consultations.

"If an opportunity arises to discuss amendments to the directive, it is worth considering that there may be an advantage in changing the definition of technical contribution," said Probert.

The full report of the workshops held by the UKPO can be found here.