Sunday, August 23, 2015

Indian Patent Office Releases Guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions

By an order dated August 21, 2015, the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks released the latest guidelines for examination of patent applications dealing with computer related inventions. The guidelines are available here. This post is merely an update on this development. I hope to undertake an analysis of the Guidelines soon.

Paragraph 3 of the Guidelines contains definitions of algorithm, computer, computer network, computer programme, computer system, data, firmware, function, hardware, "per se", software and a few more similar and relevant terms. Para 4.5 of the Guidelines deals with determination of excluded subject-matter in patent applications, with specific sub-heads separately dealing with determination of various categories of subject-matter excluded under Section 3(k) of the Patents Act, 1970. Extracted below are some of the relevant portions:

4.5 Determination of excluded subject matter relating to CRIs 
Since patents are granted to inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology, it is important to ascertain from the nature of the claimed CRI whether it is of a technical nature involving technical advancement as compared to the existing knowledge or having economic significance and is not subject to exclusion under Section 3 of the Patents Act. The sub-section 3(k) excludes mathematical methods or business methods or computer programme per se or algorithms from patentability. Computer programmes are often claimed in the form of algorithms as method claims or system claims with some „means‟ indicating the functions of flow charts or process steps. It is well-established that, in patentability cases, the focus should be on the underlying substance of the invention, not the particular form in which it is claimed. What is important is to judge the substance of claims taking whole of the claim together. If the claims in any form such as method/process, apparatus/system/device, computer program product/ computer readable medium fall under the said excluded categories, they would not be patentable. However, if in substance, the claims, taken as whole, do not fall in any of the excluded category, the patent should not be denied. 

4.5.4 Claims directed at Computer Programme per se: 
The computer programme per se is excluded from patentability under section 3 (k) apart from mathematical or business method and algorithm. Claims which are directed towards computer programs per se are excluded from patentability, like (i) Claims directed at computer programmes/ set of instructions/ Routines and/or Sub-routines written in a specific language (ii) Claims directed at “computer programme products” / “Storage Medium having instructions” / “Database” / “Computer Memory with instruction” i.e. computer programmes per se stored in a computer readable medium The legislative intent to attach suffix per se to computer programme is evident by the following view expressed by the Joint Parliamentary Committee while introducing Patents (Amendments) Act, 2002:

“In the new proposed clause (k) the words ''per se" have been inserted. This change has been proposed because sometimes the computer programme may include certain other things, ancillary thereto or developed thereon. The intention here is not to reject them for grant of patent if they are inventions. However, the computer programmes as such are not intended to be granted patent. This amendment has been proposed to clarify the purpose.” 

The JPC report holds that the computer programmes as such are not intended to be granted patent. It uses the phrase “ … certain other things, ancillary thereto or developed thereon…..”. The term “ancillary” indicates something essential to give effect to the main subject. In respect of CRIs, the term “ancillary thereto” would mean the “things” which are essential to give effect to the computer programme. The clause “developed thereon” in the JPC report may be understood as any improvement or technical advancement achieved by such development. Therefore, if a computer programme is not claimed by “in itself” rather, it has been claimed in such manner so as to establish industrial applicability of the invention and fulfills all other criterion of patentability, the patent should not be denied. In such a scenario, the claims in question shall have to be considered taking in to account whole of the claims. 

1 comment:

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