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Hint: You can search for patents yourself at DEPATISnet (DPMA).
European Software Patents: Assorted Examples
Quotation from the FFII page: "We came across the following impressive examples at first reading through our tabular listings of software patents. They were almost randomly chosen and thus approximately represent the technicity and inventivity standards of the European Patent Office. If anything distinguishes them from other patents it is the relative ease with which they can be understood at first sight by a fairly large public." You can verify the criticism of the FFII yourself: the original patents are presented.
Software Patents in Action
Quotation from the FFII page: "In recent years, more and more software patent litigation cases are becoming known through the media. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Most software companies and software developers are being threatened informally outside of courts, and silence is an obligatory part of these out-of-court settlements. Many projects are cut back or don't get started because the field is cluttered with patents. It is difficult to document blocked paths of development. Here we will try our best."
Control system with an integrated web server
- US 5,805,442 – Distributed Interface Architecture for Programmable Industrial Control Systems (English, PDF, 362 KB)
This patent became well-known through the lawsuit between Schneider Electric and Opto 22 in USA, see the article at control.com. Schneider Electric bought the patent in 2000 from its inventor Ken Crater (Control Technology Corporation).
We don't know of a corresponding patent application in Europe or Germany.
Question: Could this patent be granted based on current European practise or based on the European Commission's proposal for a directive?
Transmission of data from a PLC into a spreadsheet
- US 5,038,318 – Device for Communicating Real Time Data Between a Programmable Logic Controller and a Program Operating in a Central Controller (English, PDF, 1003 KB)
This became "famous" through the sale of Schneider Electric to Solaia and through Solaia's lawsuit against users of OPC such as BMW, see the article in Control Engineering. This patent meanwhile has its European cousins:
- EP 0 346 441 B1 (English, PDF, 874 KB)
- DE 38 55 219 T2 – (German translation of EP 0 346 441 B1) (German, PDF, 1228 KB)
Meanwhile Rockwell and BMW have filed counter-lawsuits, which have been documented by OPC Foundation on its homepage.
Question: Do you know whether litigation is occurring or pending in Europe as well?
National Instruments (US) takes over GFS and Datalog (DE) after software patent litigation
The two German companies GFS and Datalog were taken over in 1998/99 by the US company National Instruments after a patent battle.
Quotation from Control Engineering: "National Instruments (NI, Austin, Tex.) acquired Datalog (Monchengladbach, Germany) in Sept. '98 and GFS (Aachen, Germany) in September '99. The German firms manufacture software products that NI felt were infringing on its LabView patents, and so, after considering numerous options, NI decided to buy both."
Question: about which patent numbers were they litigating at the time? The list of patents on the National Instruments website is very long. National Instruments has at least 5 more patent applications pending at the EPO, as can be seen from DEPATISnet.
PROFInet (Ethernet as Fieldbus)
The Profibus Nutzerorganisation (PNO) (PNO) provides its members with source code and documentation for implementing PROFInet (PROFInet Runtime Software). The license agreement for this software grants PNO members the right to use 5 patents (see section 1.5). We checked these patents and found the following patents and patent family members.
- System, Function Objects, COM/DCOM (members of the DE 198 50 469 patent family)
- DE 198 50 469 A1 – Automatisierungssystem und Verfahren zum Zugriff auf die Funktionalität von Hardwarekomponenten (German, PDF, 266 KB)
- WO 00/26731 A1 – Automation System and Method for Accessing the Functionality of Hardware Components (German, PDF, 489 KB)
- US 2001/0052041 A1 – title see WO 00/26731 A1 (English, PDF, 271 KB)
- Engineering (Interconnecting) (members of the DE 199 10 544 patent family)
- DE 199 10 544 A1 – Verfahren zur impliziten Projektierung von Kommunikationsverbindungen (German, PDF, 181 KB)
- WO 00/54146 A2 – Method for Implicitly Configuring Communications Links (German, PDF, 269 KB)
- WO 00/54146 A3 – Research report for WO 00/54146 A2 (English/German, PDF, 122 KB)
- Communication Mechanisms, Synchronisation of Applications (members of the DE 199 29 751 patent family)
- DE 199 29 751 A1 – System und Verfahren zur Übertragung von Daten, insbesondere zwischen einem Anwender- und einem Serverprogramm im Bereich der Automatisierungstechnik mit verteilten Objekten (German, PDF, 164 KB)
- WO 01/01365 A2 – System and Method for Transmitting Data, Especially Between a User Programme and a Server Programme in the Field of Automation Technology with Distributed Objects (German, PDF, 233 KB)
- WO 01/01365 A3 – Research report for WO 01/101365 A2 (English/German, PDF, 138 KB)
- US 2002/0087742 A1 – Data Transmission System and Method (English, PDF, 234 KB)
- Proxy, Gateway between Ethernet and Profibus (members of the DE 199 55 306 patent family)
- DE 199 55 306 C1 – Kommunikationsteilnehmer bzw. Kommunikationsverfahren (German, PDF, 251 KB)
- WO 01/37492 B1 – Communication Subscriber or Communication Method for Communication with a Field Bus and a Network (German, PDF, 555 KB, ... A1 since ... B1 was not available at DEPATISnet)
- Transport of Diagnostics Information (patent family members)
Fieldbus Patents (Warrior Patents)
The following patents are from Fisher-Rosemount (today's Emerson Process Management) and are being discussed in the circles of Foundation Fieldbus and HART. A part of the patents are also referred to by the inventor's name as "Warrior Patents". In specialist circles it was long believed that such patents would never be possible in Europe. Meanwhile however there are European and German patents and applications, as can be seen by patent family searches at DEPATISnet (DPMA).
Question: Do these patents really have a "technical character"? Quote (translated) from the German Patent Office: "A program-related invention has a technical character, if for solving the problem, which is at the heart of the invention, forces of nature or technical means (such as hydraulic forces, electrical currents or computer signals) are directly used."
- Field-Mounted Control Unit (patent family members)
- US 5,825,664 – Field-Mounted Control Unit (PDF, 941 KB)
- US 5,485,400 – Field-Mounted Control Unit (PDF, 591 KB)
- US 5,333,114 – Field-Mounted Control Unit (PDF, 457 KB)
- EP 0 495 001 B1 – Field-Mounted Control Unit (PDF, 472 KB)
- DE 690 32 954 T2 – In einer Arbeitsumgebung montierte Steuereinheit (translation of EP 0 495 001 B1) (PDF, 519 KB)
- Transmitter with Improved Compensation (patent family members)
- Field Based Process Control System With Auto-Tuning (patent family members)
- Process I/O to Fieldbus Interface Circuit (patent family members)
- Interface Controls for use in an Field Device Management System/Device Description (patent family members)
- US 5,903,455 – Interface Controls for use in an Field Device Management System (PDF, 1158 KB)
- US 5,796,602 – Method and Apparatus Using a Device Description for a Conventional Device (PDF, 465 KB)
- EP 0 885 412 B1 – Interface Controls for a Field Device Management System (PDF, 2523 KB)
- EP 0 879 444 B1 – Method and Apparatus Using a Device Description for a Conventional Device (PDF, 586 KB)
- Local Device and Process Diagnostics in a Process Control Network ... (patent family members)
- US 6,026,352 – Local Device and Process Diagnostics in a Process Control Network Having Distributed Control Functions (PDF, 1286 KB)
- US 5,970,430 – Local Device and Process Diagnostics in a Process Control Network Having Distributed Control Functions (PDF, 1324 KB)
- EP 1 022 626 A2 – Local Device and Process Diagnostics in a Process Control Network Having Distributed Control Functions (PDF, 1262 KB)
Filed Today, Patented Tomorrow?
Ideas which are filed at the patent office today are usually meant to be patented. By looking at exemplary patent applications of a large German electronics corporation, which has been pushing for an extensive patenting practise for many years, you can recognize the direction where we are heading.
Statements and Demands
After a detailed analysis of the current patenting practise, of the EU Directive Proposal, of related literature and of numerous example patents and patent applications as well as extensive discussions with proponents and opponents of software patentability, we have worked out a position paper on software patents, which includes a series of demands.
Plea for a Clear Concept of Technical Inventions (PDF, 236 KB)
Transparencies (translated) for a lecture given at a meeting of the working group "Communication in Industrial Automation" of the German electrical and electronic manufacturers' association ZVEI on 2002-06-05.
Please note: The software and hardware names, company names, and brand names used in this text may be subject to trademark, registered trademark, or patent protection.
Please send any suggestions, comments and critical remarks about www.esr-pollmeier.de/swpat/... to Stefan Pollmeier.