Lords put end to long running software patent case

An attempt to overturn the UK law banning software patents has been blocked after the House of Lords refused permission to appeal. Australian entrepreneur Neal Macrossan's two year battle is now over.

Macrossan had tried to patent an automated system for acquiring the documents necessary to incorporate a company in the UK. He told OUT-LAW.COM that he was puzzled by the Lords' decision.

"Naturally I am disappointed by the result. But such is life," he said. "I must say, however, that I am rather perplexed by the one sentence reason given by the House of Lords Appeal Committee for refusing leave in my case, namely, 'permission is refused because the petition does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance'."

"Previously, no one has ever seriously questioned that the matter was of general public importance, not even the 'anti-patent software proponents'," he said. "And of course the Court of Appeal itself pronounced that 'billions (euros, pounds or dollars) turn on it.' And as to there been no arguable point of law, then why so much legal arguing to date?"

Macrossan's patent application was denied by the Patent Office's hearing officer in 2005, then by the High Court. He sought and obtained leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, which also blocked his application.

The UK's Patents Act states that something cannot be patented if it is: "a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer". The High Court ruled that the application should fail on both the mental act and computer program grounds.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the application for a patent was invalid both because it was a computer program and because it was a business method. "We hold that Mr Macrossan's idea is excluded from patentability," said the appeal court judges.

Macrossan applied to the House of Lords for the right to appeal that decision, but has now been refused that permission. A committee of Lords Hoffman, Walker and Mance refused the bid.

Macrossan said that, in the light of many of the statements made in the many parts of the case, the Lords could not reasonably have concluded that there was no arguable point of law of general public importance, which was the reason the Lords gave for refusing the appeal.

Lord Justice Jacob of the Court of Appeal had said that "the issue of article 52 exclusion is of public interest," Macrossan pointed out. He also pointed out that the Court of Appeal said that the numbers of cases relating to these exemptions were increasing dramatically.