Mowser trap "obvious"

Back in early 2006 Mr Justice Pumfrey upheld the patent revocation claim brought by BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd (RIM) against Inpro & T-Mobile (see BAILII [2006] EWHC 70 Pat ). Yesterday the Court of Appeal (Lords Justices Tuckey, Jacob and Moore-Bick) dismissed Inpro and T-Mobile's appeal at [2007] EWCA Civ 51. The punchline was that a patent for software for a computing system that was concerned with how a small hand-held computer with a small display and limited battery life could access the internet was rightly considered to be invalid for obviousness in the face of three earlier pieces of prior art - including the delightfully named Mowser.

On a more techie level, the concept of Inpro's first claim was that of a proxy server between the field computer (eg the BlackBerry) and the internet; the field computer could send information about what it could display to the proxy, which in turn could transpose what it received from the internet into what could be displayed by the small field computer screen. The second claim was for the additional feature of text and image assembly within a single file in the proxy before it was sent to the field computer. Inpro complained that, when assessing the validity of these claims in terms of inventive step, he had misapplied the Windsurfing rules, especially since he failed to identify the differences between the prior art and the inventive concept of Inpro's claims in compliance with Windsurfing's question three.

[See Windsurfing Inc v Tabur Marine (Great Britain) Ltd [1985] RPC 59 at page 73 (per Lord Justice Oliver):
"There are, we think, four steps which require to be taken in answering the jury question. The first is to identify the inventive concept embodied in the patent in suit. Thereafter, the court has to assume the mantle of the normally skilled but unimaginative addressee in the art at the priority date and to impute to him what was, at that date, common general knowledge in the art in question. The third step is to identify what, if any, differences exist between the matter cited as being "known or used" and the alleged invention. Finally, the court has to ask itself whether, viewed without any knowledge of the alleged invention, those differences constitute steps which would have been obvious to the skilled man or whether they require any degree of invention."]
The Court of Appeal didn't have any quarrel with Pumfrey J's analysis. The Court said, in short
* the first claim contained a general idea of a proxy to do the work. This was already disclosed by Mowser and the judges simply could could not see, at the most basic level, that tailoring the image so that it fitted the screen of the field computer was 'inventive' over Mowser (which already said that, since the size of the image could be reduced, you didn't need to be an inventor to make a smaller image that would fill the screen, Windsurfing applied.

* Pumfrey J looked at the second claim in the context of all the citations of prior art collectively. That was legitimate, since the feature was an idea that was independent of screen size-matching and there was no question of the addition of the two features being an inventive combination.

* The real issue was whether, given the idea of a proxy server, using it to combine files so that a single file was sent to the field computer was obvious - which it was.
The IPKat does wish that UK litigants would have this tendency to apply Windsurfing as though it was some special formula. The Windsurfing rule is not rocket science. In fact, it seems blindingly obvious in itself.

More here on Mowser, Mouser (right), Mauser and homophones
Mowser trap "obvious" Mowser trap "obvious" Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, February 08, 2007 Rating: 5

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