New Obstacles Are Raised to Protecting Computer-Related Inventions

New Obstacles Are Raised to Protecting Computer-Related Inventions


Recent court decisions make it more challenging to protect computer-related inventions with patents. On September 5, in the case of Accenture v. Guidewire [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to subscribers], the Federal Circuit issued a split decision holding that a computer-related invention was not eligible to be patented.

At issue in Accenture was the validity of an already issued patent having claims directed to a system, and to a method, for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization. The system claims required an "insurance transaction database," a "task library database," a "client component," and a "server component." These items, which have sub-items that also appear in the claim, cooperate with each other to generate the tasks to be performed.

The patent also included a method claim that recited steps in a computer environment involving an event processor that interacts with an insurance transaction database, a task assistant, and a storing step.

In the past, this kind of structural detail in a computer-implemented system claim and a computer-implemented method claim would be sufficient to support a determination that the subject matter would be eligible for a patent, and, indeed, a patent with such claims was issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. Illustrating the structural detail in the system claim, the last subparagraph of the claim reads this way:

. . . wherein the event processor is triggered by application events associated with a change in the information, and sends an event trigger to the task engine; wherein in response to the event trigger, the task engine identifies rules in the task library database associated with the event and applies the information to the identified rules to determine the tasks to be completed, and populates on a task assistant the determined tasks to be completed, wherein the task assistant transmits the determined tasks to the client component.

Accenture put considerable additional detail into its patent, which has 15 figures, and occupies 110 columns of print. The patent is loaded with examples, including numerous excerpts of actual programming code, showing how Object Oriented Programming structures implement the invention.

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