Earlier this year the EPO Boards of Appeal decided (in case T0625/11) to overturn a decision from the Examining Division and allow a European patent application for an invention relating to software.
The patent application was filed by Areva NP, a French company involved in the design and supply of equipment for the nuclear industry. The invention involved a numerical simulation to determine whether the operating conditions of a nuclear reactor were within limits that would prevent failure of the reactor cladding.
The Board of Appeal decided that the nature of the parameter calculated in the numerical simulation was technical because it was closely related to the operation of a nuclear reactor. This applied even though the invention did not involve any specific use of the calculated parameter, and even though the simulation could be performed entirely within a computer.
This was a narrow case because it could have been argued that this invention is no different to a financial simulation that also processes data and has no effect outside the computer. The critical factor is the nature of the data being simulated which, in this case, was sufficient to confer a technical character on the claimed invention.
Credit to the applicant for continuing to fight the case, even after a negative decision from the Examining Division. It demonstrates that filing an appeal can be a good strategy if you feel that the examiner made the wrong decision at first instance.
See here for more information on patenting computer implemented inventions.