The EPO in assessing the contribution of the invention came to the conclusion that this boiled down to :
… that at the time the order for the delivery is received the exact address of the recipient may not be known. Simply asking the recipient for his address is a non-technical step. Equally non-technical is the idea of having the vendor - rather than the purchaser - contact the recipient. Technical is therefore only the computer system itself and the means for communicating with the recipient, namely e-mail. But these technical means were well known at the priority date, and the invention simply uses them in a straightforward, conventional manner.
On this basis, the EPO considered that the invention was obvious in view of existing technology and that, therefore, they could not issue a patent for it.
Strangely, there doesn't seem to have been any dancing in the streets and the rejoicing from the anti-software patent lobby over this. There was a great deal of publicity arising from the decision in the United States from a couple of years ago in the Bilski matter which also related to a computer-related invention. However, most of the comments in this respect were seriously wide off the mark; the rumours of the demise of software patents were greatly exaggerated. To me at least, software patents are here to stay.
Michael McLaughlin is a patent attorney with at McLaughlin IP in Singapore. His practice extends across all areas of engineering and physical sciences, but has a particular focus on ICT.
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