The Federal Court of Justice ("Bundesgerichtshof") is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of law in Germany. Recently, the Court was asked to evaluate whether a client-server system, configured to dynamically generate structured documents, is sufficiently of a "technical nature" to warrant patent protection.
Unlike the US, Germany follows the EU prohibition on patents directed to "computer programs as such." While this term is interpreted differently in different EU jurisdictions, German law requires software inventions to solve a "technical problem" in order to be eligible for patent protection.
The (machine-translated) claim in question read
A method for dynamic generation of structured documents (SD) to at least one with a client (CL) communicating, with limited resources, a host computer (SRV), comprising the steps of:The Applicant argued that the invention addresses a "technical problem" by providing a method that allows dynamically structured documents to be delivered to clients having computers of limited resources. Since the method addresses a hardware-based problem (limited resources), it is "technical" in nature, and thus patentable.
receiving request data (REQ) of the client (CL) on the host computer (SRV);
extracting parameters from the request data request (REQ);
mapping the request parameter using a control module (CRT) on an instruction set of a software architecture-specific interface module (IF) of the master computer (SRV);
dynamically generating the structured document (SD) using at least one presentation document (TD) with included calls of service takers (JB), with instructions of the service takers (JB) through the interface module (IF) extracts and were confined to one corresponding to a section of service takers of will command the interface module (IF shown),
which are executed with the assistance of the depicted request parameters in a runtime environment of the control module (CRT) and define the content after the execution and / or structure of the structured document (SD) . . .
The Court agreed, and overturned the (lower) Federal Patent Court.
[Machine translation]: A technical means to solve a technical problem exists not only when equipment components are modified or addressed fundamentally different. It is sufficient that when the ending of a data processing program that is used to solve the problem, is determined by technical factors outside the data processing system or if the solution consists precisely in a computer program in such a way that the technical characteristics of the data processing system have regard to. That condition is satisfied in this case. The invention relates to teaching, such as the Patent Court in law, the basic approach for the generation of dynamic documents. It is aimed not so to the programmer, but to the system designer who has the overall architecture of the data processing system in the eye and takes into account the different characteristics and performance of hardware and software components. Precisely for this reason it concerns the use of technical means to solve the underlying technical problem.Read/download the original German Opinion (PDF)
Read the Google-translated version of the opinion here (link)
The anti-software patent community is apoplectic about this decision and has started to weigh in on the ruling - see Florian Mueller, "German high court declares all software potentially patentable" (link)