I have been enjoying watching the Dragon's Den on BBC2. This is a TV program where inventors pitch their ideas to a group of potential investors. The combination of wacky inventions, nervous pitches, colourful personalities and some memorable put-downs make this a quite enjoyable program. Last night's winner was one Mr. Ian Chamings, a former DJ and now a patent attorney. His pitch was for a website called MixAlbum.com (the site seems to be under construction at the moment). The site is an iTunes for dance music, with the supposed novelty that it can automatically mix two songs and sell the result. Mr Chamings obtained £150,000 GBP from two Dragons for 40% of his company. One of the elements that swayed the investors was the fact that Mr Chamings has a patent on his work.
Needless to say, as soon as I heard the word "patent" my interest was piqued. Doing some research, I have found that this software is indeed patented as a "computer aided music mixing system" under UK patent GB2370405. I'm really surprised that this product was able to get a patent in the UK! The abstract and the patent clearly are describing an algorithm for software. This is not a computer implemented invention in the sense of the defunct European Directive, and most certainly it is not under any conceivable manner a computer application that has a technical effect, as required by European and UK patent practice and case law.
Furthermore, mixing software is not a novel idea, and the prior art is extensive, as there has been mixing software in the market for years and years, (MixMeister and MixVibes just to mention two of them). The patent application discusses some of the prior art, but claims novelty on the grounds of being an automated system, and because it performs the mixing more efficiently than its predecessors, which in itself should not warrant a patent.
This is further evidence of the insidious creep of software patents in the UK and Europe, as if further evidence was required, considering the wealth of examples of already patented software.