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Computer Simulations are Patentable in Europe

In one of the most important computer and software related decisions in recent years, the EPO Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) in case G1/19 has confirmed that:

  • Computer simulations may be patentable as part of a system or process
  • Computer simulations may be patentable as part of a design process for verifying a
    design.

The EBA also observed that when assessing inventive step:

  • computer simulations can contribute to the technical character of an invention; and
  • computer simulation inventions should be assessed in the same manner as any other computer-implemented invention.

The inventions claimed in this case related to the modelling and simulation of movements of a pedestrian through a building. A simulation of an individual’s movement can be applied to a large number of individuals to simulate movement of a crowd. Simulating movement of a crowd within the building can then be used to assess whether the design of the building meets certain requirements, for example for evacuation of the building.

The Board of Appeal that referred the questions to the EBA was of the view that the claimed simulation method did not serve a technical purpose and so could not contribute to the technical character of the invention.

However, the EBA in its decision confirmed that the established approach taken in the COMVIK case (EPO Board of Appeal decision T 641/00) for assessing inventive step in computer-implemented inventions was also applicable to computer simulations. The COMVIK approach permits the inclusion of non-technical features when assessing inventive step, provided that the non-technical features contribute to the technical character of the invention.

This represents an opportunity to obtain patent protection in Europe for computer simulation inventions, even where the computer simulation has a non-technical purpose.
This also opens the doors to enable clients to patent computer simulations as part of a design process for verifying a design. The EBA commented that they did not see the need for any special rules if a simulation is claimed as part of a design process.

For further advice on the implications of this decision and how it affects protection of your computer simulation inventions in Europe, please contact us.

Key contact: Graeme McCallum[email protected]