Document creation system awaits patent judgment

A system for completing company registration forms is nothing more than a software program connected to the internet and should not be patentable, an English court has heard. The submission was made in what could be a landmark case over software patents.

Neal Macrossan has appealed the verdict of the Comptroller-General Of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks that his invention cannot be patented. The case has now been heard at the Court of Appeal on appeal from the High Court and is awaiting a verdict.

Macrossan invented a system designed to help people fill out the series of forms required to register a company in the UK. It is offered from his site, www.ukcorporator.co.uk/.

To win a patent registration in the UK an invention must be capable of an industrial application, be new and involve an inventive step. Inventions which are solely for performing mental acts, carrying out business methods and computer programs are specifically excluded from patentability.

Macrossan's invention was denied a patent by the UK Patents Office. He took his case to the High Court which agreed with the Patents Office, ruling that the application should fail both on the grounds of being the automation of a mental act and of it being a program for a computer.

Macrossan then applied to the Appeals Court and in that case the Comptroller-General of Patents was represented but Macrossan, an Australian resident, neither appeared himself nor was represented at the hearings.

"What more is this apart from a programmed computer, a programmed computer in the modern sense of being connected to the internet?" said the Comptroller-General's counsel Colin Birss. "This is, we would submit, plainly excluded subject matter. It is not really more than a computer program."

Birss said that he did not want to prove that the system was a scheme for a mental act, that showing that it was a computer program should be enough. "I respectfully submit that it is plain as a pikestaff that Mr Macrossan's patent does not need any definition of a mental act exclusion to say that it is not patentable. It is quite obvious because it is software," said Birss.

The case was heard because Lord Justice Jacob ruled in a pre-trial hearing that Macrossan had a 'real chance of success'. "The issue of exclusions is of public interest, sufficiently uncertain and thus worthy of consideration by the court," wrote Jacob in his decision to grant the right of appeal.

The court awaits the ruling of the judges, Lord Justice Chadwick, Lord Justice Jacob and Lord Justice Neuberger.