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United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom is part of the European Union, is a signatory of the European Patent Convention, and has substantial case law on patentable subject matter.

Software patents exist in the UK. They get granted by the patent office (UKIPO) and get upheld by the courts (example: Symbian v. Comptroller General (2008, UK)). The mitigating factor is that the case law in the UK is not strong, so this may change in future rulings.


Patentable subject matter in the UK is defined in the following part of the UK Patent Act 1977:

(2) It is hereby declared that the following (among other things) are not inventions for the purposes of this Act, that is to say, anything which consists of —
(a) a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method;
(b) a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work or any other aesthetic creation whatsoever;
(c) a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer;
(d) the presentation of information; but the foregoing provision shall prevent anything from being treated as an invention for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a patent or application for a patent relates to that thing as such.

This is interpreted identical to the European Patent Convention, as noted by Lord Justice Jacob in the 2006 Aerotel v. Telco ruling:

these appeals turn on the application of Art.52(2) and 52(3) of the EPC. The provision was implemented in UK law by s.1(2) of the Patents Act 1977. Although s.1(2) pointlessly uses somewhat different wording from that of the EPC no-one suggests that it has any different meaning. So we, like the parties before us, work directly from the source.[1]

Prime Minister's Office comments

In a February 2007 response to a petition, the Prime Minister's Office commented that "Although certain jurisdictions, such as the US, allow more liberal patenting of software-based inventions, these patents cannot be enforced in the UK. The test used to discern between patentable and non-patentable subject matter in the UK has recently been clarified by the courts, and is applied rigorously by the Patent Office." [2]

One year later, in October 2008, the UK courts upheld a patent which was very certainly a software patent: Symbian v. Comptroller General (2008, UK).

UK politicians probably believe the myth that patent standards here are higher than in the USA.

Patent office decisions

Main article: UK patent office

Related pages on ESP Wiki

External links