The so-called "Gift Order Patent" has been revoked by the EPO in an opposition proceeding today [7 December 2007] after a hearing involving three opposing parties and the patent proprietor, Amazon Inc. The patent relates to a method for purchasing goods over the Internet to be sent as gifts.
The contested patent is European Patent EP 0 927 945, granted to Amazon Inc. on 23 April 2003. This patent relates to an invention in the field of computer-implemented inventions (CII). It specifies a method by which a person can purchase a product as a gift and have it shipped based on the e-mail address of the recipient. Based on this e-mail address, the system will then contact the recipient to obtain a valid postal address for shipping. This patent is not to be confused with the “One-Click” patent application, which was withdrawn after the first EPO examination and never granted in Europe.
The parties who have lodged opposition against the patent – all of whom were represented at the hearing – are Fleurop Interflora Businesses and two non-government organisations in the IT field, namely the German Society of Information Sciences, and the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure (FFII).
One of the opposition’s main arguments against the patent – among others – was that it fell short of meeting the criteria of providing an “inventive step”, as defined in Article 56 of the European Patent Convention (EPC). On these grounds, the three opposing parties asked for the patent to be revoked.
As usual, the EPO has confused the issue for many by muddling patentability with inventive step. The IPKat guesses that the real reason behind the patent being revoked will have been that the 'contribution' (to use the English approach) solely related to excluded matter, which from looking at the claims seems to be that of a method for doing business (and not a computer program at all).
This Kat gets quite annoyed at the way the EPO at all levels persists with this (to his mind at least) rather dishonest approach. What is wrong with saying that the advance over the prior art represented by an application (though it may be novel and inventive) is nevertheless purely within an area that is excluded from patentability? Even though the 'right' result may be achieved in most cases, the approach does result in some quite strained reasoning that tends to stray far from the clear wording of the Convention, and certainly doesn't help with letting a wider audience know where the line between patentability and exclusion lies.
What the EPO has also failed to say is that this may well not be the end of the story. Amazon now have about 2 months to decide whether they want to appeal the decision. If they do, the final decision may not be known for another few years. Should things really have to take this long?