While browsing through the list of recent decisions at the UK Patent Office, the IPKat noticed this one, relating to that famous Italian-American plumber, Mario (aka Super Mario). In a particular series of his many Nintendo games, Mario and his friends take to driving karts round racing tracks, one of these being Super Mario Kart, "widely regarded as one of the finest videogames of the 16-bit era", according to Wikipedia. A problem with this is that the karts often collide and spin off the track (part of the fun, of course), and it can take a while to get back on, spoiling the gameplay. This is where Nintendo's alleged invention came in. Their invention apparently solved this problem with a new way of putting the kart back in place on the track and facing in the right direction, without any discontinuities or tiresome blank screens.
The decision related to refusal of Nintendo's application under section 1(2) of the UK Patents Act 1977. The examiner had maintained an objection regarding s1(2)(c), i.e. that the contribution lay solely in the field of computer programs, and consequently refused the application. Referring to Aerotel/Macrossan (previously reported in the IPKat here), the Hearing Officer applied the now approved four step test, noting that the decision must be treated as a definitive statement of how the law on patentable subject matter is now to be applied in the UK, and that it should not be necessary to refer back to previous UK or EPO case law regarding the issue.
Not having opposable thumbs, the IPKat has great difficulty getting to grips with those awkward controllers (from the marvellous stuffonmycat.com).
After construing the claims, the Hearing Officer considered the contribution to be the process of setting a kart upright and facing in the same direction as it was prior to crashing. This was seen to be clearly wholly within the area of a computer program, but not itself a scheme, method or rule for playing a game. Since the third step question was answered in the affirmative, it was not seen to be necessary to consider the fourth step, i.e. whether the contribution was "technical" in nature. The application was therefore refused.
The IPKat sees much sense in this decision, but wonders how it can be squared with the previous decisions of Sun Microsystems and ARM, both of which also related to ways of getting computer programs to do clever things purely implemented in software, but which were related to much more serious-sounding issues of bytecodes and compilers rather than silly racing karts. Merpel thinks that the Patent Office just don't like patenting things to do with having fun.