I was hoping that someone else would by now have critically analysed the recent High Court judgment in Emotional Perception AI Ltd  EWHC 2948 (Ch), which issued on 21 November 2023, but it appears that nobody has yet. There has been a recent article in the CIPA Journal, but the less said about that the better. Even the IPKat has said nothing about it so far, which is a pity. It appears therefore to fall to me to do the necessary explanation and (to give the game away somewhat) point out that the judgment is a definite outlier and is not in line with higher level case law, including several judgments from the Court of Appeal, nor is it in line with case law at the EPO. There have been several articles published that have, rather excitedly, announced the judgment as some kind of breakthrough for AI inventions because it finds, in effect, that a trained artificial neural network (ANN) is not a program for a computer under section 1(2) of the Patents Act 1977. This is, of course, in reality complete nonsense. As a consequence, the reasoning goes, this will result in AI inventions now being much more patentable than they were before. The UK IPO have even changed their practice to instruct their examiners that, as from 29 November 2023, objections should not even be raised to inventions involving an ANN for excluded subject matter. This is great news for inventors working in the field of AI who want patent protection (which may not be all of them), and also great news for their patent attorneys. I, however, am not so sure it will work out well in the longer run, and suspect this will be a temporary aberration, although I may of course be wrong.
I have been following case law on patentability in the UK and at the EPO for the past 17 years or so, coincidentally starting roughly around the time of the Court of Appeal judgment in Aerotel/Macrossan  EWCA Civ 1371, which issued while I was sitting my UK Finals in 2006. Looking at my IPKat posts from around that time (see here for example), there was much discussion in the follow-up to Aerotel about whether the 4-step test was actually in line with the EPO, which instead applied the problem-solution approach according to Comvik (T 641/00). After a bit of disagreement about the validity of computer program claims (see here), the issues in the UK appeared to settle. Although the tests applied at the UK IPO and the EPO are very different, the core issues are essentially the same, which is whether there is a 'technical effect' (which I wrote about in 2013 here). I have revisited this several times in the intervening years, most recently when writing a chapter for the IPKat's 20th anniversary book. Although there has been some tinkering around the edges, the general principles have not really changed for at least 10 years and, for better or worse, have been applied with reasonable consistency by the UK IPO. These principles can be found in any of the numerous decisions that have come from UK IPO hearing officers, which I have had the dubious pleasure of reviewing for the CIPA journal for the past 17 years. You may even have read one or two of my reviews, although I suspect very few people do.
Firstly, according to Aerotel/Macrossan, the way to deal with 'excluded matter' under section 1(2) (i.e. things that are not inventions for the purposes of the Act), was to:
i) properly construe the claim;
ii) identify the contribution (which may be the actual or alleged contribution, depending on whether a search has been performed);
iii) ask whether the contribution falls solely within excluded matter; and
iv) if step iii) hasn't already covered it, check whether the contribution is actually technical.
Secondly, in considering whether a computer program makes a technical contribution, the later decision in AT&T/CVON, which was supported and slightly amended by the Court of Appeal judgment in HTC v Apple  EWCA Civ 451, set out the following five 'signposts', any one of which may indicate the presence of a technical contribution according to step iv) of the Aerotel test:
i. Whether the claimed technical effect has a technical effect on a process which is carried on outside the computer.
ii. Whether the claimed technical effect operates at the level of the architecture of the computer; that is to say whether the effect is produced irrespective of the data being processed or the applications being run.
iii. Whether the claimed technical effect results in the computer being made to operate in a new way.
iv. Whether the program makes the computer a better computer in the sense of running more efficiently and effectively as a computer.
v. Whether the perceived problem is overcome by the claimed invention as opposed to merely being circumvented.
It is worth noting at this point that, although Kitchin LJ stated, "these are useful signposts [...] But that does not mean to say they will be determinative in every case", in practice at the UK IPO, rightly or wrongly, these signposts have been determinative in every case where they have been applied. There has not been a single case where the signposts have been used and yet the invention has still been found to have a technical contribution. I would certainly have noticed and pointed it out with great excitement if there had been. To at least a first approximation therefore, if the contribution in a computer-implemented invention is not found to be within at least one of the signposts, it is not patentable.
With that all established, a computer-implemented method in a patent application such as the one put forward by Emotional Perception AI Limited (previously known as Mashtraxx Limited), would be expected to face a difficult time in getting granted. The application itself related to a method of training and implementing an ANN to identify a pair of similar data files, a particular example being music files. In simple terms, the claimed invention was about matching data files based on closeness of written descriptions and of the data itself. The actual claimed invention is a classic example of technical obfuscation, with the latest version of claim 1 reading as follows: