Australia’s Full Federal Court has overturned its decision in Commissioner of Patents v RPL Central Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 177, holding that RPL’s invention is a “business method or scheme” and is not patentable subject matter. This decision highlights how the Court differentiates between business and technical innovations, and sets out Australia’s position on software patenting.

The Nature of RPL’s Invention

RPL’s “invention” related to an assessment of the competency and qualification of individuals with respect to certain standards. RPL’s program involved using a computer and web browser to retrieve information. The computer then generates questions to satisfy performance criteria under a qualification standard. After the individual answers these questions, he or she can upload documents. 

Research Affiliates LLC v Commissioner of Patents [2014] FCAFC 150

The Court did not deny the usefulness of RPL’s invention – rather the use of the program as anything more than the ordinary tasks of the computer. The Court questioned whether the program could be described as an improvement in computer technology, relying heavily on their earlier decision in Research Affiliates LLC  v Commissioner of Patents. They asserted that the computer programming was an ordinary task and as such, not patentable. 

The court reiterated the key requirements of patentable inventions – novelty, an inventive step, and manner of manufacture, seen in Research Affiliates but a position blurred in the instance of RPL.

Application of Myriad

The Court referred to D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc [2015] HCA 35 (“Myriad”) to determine and establish whether the computer implemented business model is patentable. Unlike Myriad, this was not a case where the patentability of the subject matter already existed, and in this instance, the Court did not consider RPL’s invention fell into a new class or claim.

What did the Court Find?

  • The Court confirmed that an invention needs to be technical in nature as in Erotel Ltd v Telco Holdings Ltd; Macrossan’s Application [2007] 1 All ER 225. 
  • There was the issue of whether the invention solves a technical problem or merely processes data.
  • The claim required merely generic computer implementation.
  • There is no substance added to the concept or idea and that the computer is simply an intermediary.

What Does This Case Mean?

The Court ultimately held that the supposed invention was a scheme or a business method and not subject to patenting. It also sheds light on patent-eligibility of a computer program. We for one will watch closely to see whether Australia’s position shifts in the coming years, so watch this space.

Questions about software patenting? Let our patent lawyers know on 1300 544 755 or tag us on Twitter @legalvision_au.

Sophie Glover

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