Google recently attempted to obtain UK patents for two related aspects of their mapping software. These patent applications were recently refused at a hearing by the UK IPO on the grounds that they relate to excluded subject matter.
Google’s inventions related to mapping techniques in which geographic regions were generated with sizes that varied according to their distance from a user’s position. The invention allowed these geographic regions to be updated as a user changed their position in the real world. The invention in this case could be undertaken entirely within a computer. However, Google argued that the data represented real world locations, and that this meant that the invention involved technical considerations.
The Hearing Officer applied the four-step test set out in the Aerotel judgment. In deciding whether the invention related solely to excluded matter the Hearing Officer said “A computer-implemented method which manipulates data and displays the results of that manipulation does not appear to me to avoid the exclusion simply because the data represents something in the real world; instead the method must provide a technical contribution”. This demonstrates some of the difficulties in obtaining patent protection for software at the UK-IPO, even when the data being processed relates to the real world.
The decision will no doubt be a disappointment to Google, given that the corresponding US application was granted. It is notable that Google decided to proceed with this application at the UK-IPO when it might have had a better chance of success at the EPO.
See here for more information on patenting computer implemented inventions.