Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Put it on the plastic - Observations from Australia on subject matter eligibility

Last week the Australian Patent Office issued a decision on Visa Inc v CardinalCommerce Corporation [2011] APO 34 (25 May 2011). The decision itself is not startling. The Hearing Officer does however make some interesting observations on the reliability or otherwise of internet archives.
CardinalCommerce Corporation filed this patent application 2003243523 back in June 2003. The patent application relates to a universal merchant platform for payment authentication. It has particular application in facilitating the authentication of an individual to conduct a secure commercial transaction with credit or debit card over a communications network.
What the invention offers in one aspect is a universal authentication program plug-in layer and a distribution layer. In another aspect the invention offers a universal platform server. The combination of layers and the server are each removed from the merchant site. The layers and/or server determine(s) relevant authentication protocols and perform(s) subsequent routing.
Visa argued unsuccessfully that:
  • the claims lacked novelty (anticipated)
  • the claims lacked an inventive step (obvious)
  • the claims did not define a manner of manufacture (patentable subject matter).
One of the exhibits tabled by Visa consisted of pages from a website captured by the “WayBackMachine”.  CardinalCommerce referred to a European Patent Office (“EPO”) Boards of Appeal decision, T1134/06, to highlight a finding that the Internet generally, including the Internet Archive WayBackMachine, was not a reliable source for determining the state of the art.
The Hearing Officer accepted that the Internet Archive may not be entirely reliable in respect to dates of availability or content on a particular date. In this case though, the claimed date of the exhibit was some four months before the priority date of the contested application. Even allowing for some variance in accuracy of the publication date, four months was considered to be a sufficient buffer to cover that.
Visa also argued that the invention does not contain patent eligible subject matter. It argued that the method claims merely defined a scheme that makes use of known components for which their known properties make them suitable.
The Hearing Officer held that the method claims clearly relate to supporting authentication processing of on-line commercial transactions involving physical steps in a networked environment. The claims were held not to be directed merely to a scheme and did in fact relate to a manner of manufacture.
The observations on eligible subject matter represent a welcome departure from the left field post-Bilski Invention Pathways Pty Ltd [2010] APO 10.

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