Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Halliburton loses software patent case

[First seen here] This is a new case from the High Court of England and Wales (Patent Court). The case is Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v Smith International. The litigation involved two different types of technology, a cone drill to dig for gas and oil, and a software simulation program used to design the bits.

Halliburton sued Smith International because it claimed that it had patents in both the drill and the software to design it (patent EP1117894), and that Smith had been using similar software (called IDEAS) to produce similar results. Smith International questioned the validity of the patents.

The patent has a long description of drills and drill bits, which I did not read. The interesting part is the algorithm description of the software. It seems way too detailed, nothing like some of the general software patents that have plagued the industry. If I have ever seen a software patent that encompasses and fulfils the definition of "technical effect", this is it. I cannot see any situation in which this could be claimed to be a broad and damaging patent, and unless one is into creating software for simulating drill bits, there is no reason to worry. Judge Pomfrey seemed to agree, as there appears to be no question about the obviousness of the patent. It is not obvious.

The problem for Haliburton was that it was considered that the patent application had inadequate disclosure. For those unfamiliar with patent law, one of the (alleged) points of having a patent system is that the applicant will disclose enough information so that the patent can be worked once it expires. Pomfrey mentions the fact that in very technical subjects, the threshold of disclosure is much higher. Therefore, the stated disclosure in this case was not sufficient.

This is quite an interesting result. A valid computer implemented invention struck down for disclosure. Sweet irony?

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