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Data Transfer Technique ‘Not Patentable’

The creator of a novel method of transferring data between computers, using email, has failed in an attempt to patent its invention after the High Court ruled that it fell foul of the exclusion of computer programs from patentability contained within Section 1(2) of the Patents Act 1977.

The invention, in essence, involved communication between a local and a remote computer whereby the former sent an email containing machine code to the latter. On receipt of the email, the remote computer executed the instruction contained within the code, retrieved the requested data and sent it to the local computer.

The Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks ruled that the invention fell within the computer programs exclusion and, in dismissing an appeal against that decision, the Court noted that its role was to review the matter, not to re-hear it, and that it could detect no error of law in the Comptroller-General’s approach.

Looking at the invention overall, the Court observed that, in substance, it related to computer software running on conventional computers connected by a conventional telecommunications network. Email was a conventional data transfer technique and the invention avoided, rather than solved, problems encountered in accessing remote computers via continuous connections. The Court noted that, although the technique had been recognised as ‘novel and inventive’ by an examiner, it had not been shown that it contributed anything of a technical character to the art.