The US PTO and the EPO have some important differences when it comes to protecting software related inventions. Thus it is important to consider what European attorneys tell us is required to protect a software invention in Europe.
Paul Cole of the UK firm Lucas & Co. wrote a blog post on Patently-O that has some insight into what the EPO requires to protect a user software interface using two well known features to iPhone users. With respect to the slide-to-unlock patent, the EPO Examining Division believed the invention satisfied a technical problem, but was still obvious over windows dragging and dropping. As Paul states, Apple argued an "objective technical problem was to provide a more efficient user-friendly procedure for unlocking a portable device and to provide a sensory feedback to the user regarding progress towards satisfaction of a user input condition that was required for unlocking to occur. As set out in the claim, the unlock image signalled to the user that the device was locked and simultaneously indicated a contact point that a user had to touch in order to unlock the device. The displayed path indicated to the user where and how the unlock image had to be moved and the current position of the image indicated progress already made towards the unlocked condition. The method was easier than in the prior art where a sequence of operations had to be memorised." With respect to the camera roll patent, the EPO considered it was patentable because the invention allowed a user to navigate within an image and switch between images with a minimum of inputs. Paul suggests choosing the EPO as the International Searching Authority and International Preliminary Examination Authority was also a factor.
Paul contrasts these two successful patents with an Apple patent application that was refused by the EPO Appeal Board. In that case, the invention related to a transition between a maximized and minimized window, e.g., an icon of the window on a task bar. The EPO held the difference between the invention and the prior art resided in an aesthetic effect that couldn't contribute to the inventive step. It didn't help that specification stated a variety of techniques apparent to those of ordinary skill that could be used to implement the invention.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.