ο»Ώ Guidelines for Examination:PART C: CHAPTER IV PATENTABILITY, 2. Inventions, 2.3 List of exclusions, 2.3.6 Programs for computers

 
 
Guidelines for Examination
PART C
CHAPTER IV PATENTABILITY
2. Inventions
2.3 List of exclusions
2.3.6 Programs for computers
 

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PART C
CHAPTER IV PATENTABILITYCHAPTER IV PATENTABILITY
2. Inventions2. Inventions
2.3 List of exclusions2.3 List of exclusions
  2.3.5 Schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business2.3.5 Schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business     2.3.7 Presentations of information2.3.7 Presentations of information  
 

2.3.6

Programs for computers

 

Programs for computers are a form of "computer-implemented invention", an expression intended to cover claims which involve computers, computer networks or other conventional programmable apparatus whereby prima facie the novel features of the claimed invention are realised by means of a program or programs. Such claims may e.g. take the form of a method of operating said conventional apparatus, the apparatus set up to execute the method, or, following T 1173/97 (OJ 10/1999, 609), the program itself. Insofar as the scheme for examination is concerned, no distinctions are made on the basis of the overall purpose of the invention, i.e. whether it is intended to fill a business niche, to provide some new entertainment, etc.

 

The basic patentability considerations here are in principle the same as for other subject-matter. While "programs for computers" are included among the items listed in Art. 52(2), if the claimed subject-matter has a technical character it is not excluded from patentability by the provisions of Art. 52(2) and (3). However, a data-processing operation controlled by a computer program can equally, in theory, be implemented by means of special circuits, and the execution of a program always involves physical effects, e.g. electrical currents. According to T 1173/97, such normal physical effects are not in themselves sufficient to lend a computer program technical character. But if a computer program is capable of bringing about, when running on a computer, a further technical effect going beyond these normal physical effects, it is not excluded from patentability, irrespective of whether it is claimed by itself or as a record on a carrier. This further technical effect may be known in the prior art. A further technical effect which lends technical character to a computer program may be found e.g. in the control of an industrial process or in processing data which represent physical entities or in the internal functioning of the computer itself or its interfaces under the influence of the program and could, for example, affect the efficiency or security of a process, the management of computer resources required or the rate of data transfer in a communication link. As a consequence, a computer program claimed by itself or as a record on a carrier or in the form of a signal may be considered as an invention within the meaning of Art. 52(1) if the program has the potential to bring about, when running on a computer, a further technical effect which goes beyond the normal physical interactions between the program and the computer. A patent may be granted on such a claim if all the requirements of the EPC are met; see in particular Art. 84, 83, 54 and 56, and IV, 4.4 below. Such claims should not contain program listings (see II, 4.14a), but should define all the features which assure patentability of the process which the program is intended to carry out when it is run (see III, 4.4, last sentence).

 

Moreover, following T 769/92 (OJ 8/1995, 525), the requirement for technical character is satisfied if technical considerations are required to carry out the invention. Such technical considerations must be reflected in the claimed subject-matter.

 

When considering whether a claimed computer-implemented invention is patentable, the following is to be borne in mind. In the case of a method, specifying technical means for a purely non-technical purpose and/or for processing purely non-technical information does not necessarily confer technical character on any such individual step of use or on the method as a whole. On the other hand, a computer system suitably programmed for use in a particular field, even if that is, for example, the field of business and economy, has the character of a concrete apparatus, in the sense of a physical entity or product, and thus is an invention within the meaning of Art. 52(1) (see T 931/95, OJ 10/2001, 441).

 

If a claimed invention does not have a prima facie technical character, it should be rejected under Art. 52(2) and (3). In the practice of examining computer-implemented inventions, however, it may be more appropriate for the examiner to proceed directly to the questions of novelty and inventive step, without considering beforehand the question of technical character. In assessing whether there is an inventive step, the examiner must establish an objective technical problem which has been overcome (see IV, 9.8.2). The solution of that problem constitutes the invention's technical contribution to the art. The presence of such a technical contribution establishes that the claimed subject-matter has a technical character and therefore is indeed an invention within the meaning of Art. 52(1). If no such objective technical problem is found, the claimed subject-matter does not satisfy at least the requirement for an inventive step because there can be no technical contribution to the art, and the claim is to be rejected on this ground.