back to article Inventor of revoked payment patent says UK system is a joke

A patent for the handling of gratuities in card payments has been revoked by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for being a business method implemented by a computer program. The decision follows recently-revised guidance on patentability. One of the inventors told OUT-LAW today that his company spent more than £100,000 …


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  1. Phill
    Dead Vulture

    We never managed to sell a licence...

    ...Which speaks volumes about your "invention" being so novel.

    I think this guy is a joke to be honest. Your talking about the smallest change to the internal process of a card reader. It's just an act of blocking other people and trolling what is *supposed* to be a technology designed for the public to keep them safe. Why do you need to patent such trivial bullshit? Why do you even have the rights to develop chip and pin devices in the first place? Surely that was someone elses novel invention? Quit moaning and do something that actually helps move I.T. forward.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Call it 15 quid

    So this 'including it in the bill' is different than the "that'll be 9 pounds 20 pence sir," - "call it 10 quid" during payment?

    I think not.

    Imagine a world where any little action can be patented and trolls extract payment for every little thing you do without any contribution from themselves. They could cripple the UK economy and make UK industry uncompetitive in the world.

  3. Geoff Webber

    pay cash for tips

    I never add a tip to my bill when paying by CC - the staff rarely get it.

    I prefer to chuck my loose change on the table.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Should have fallen at the first

    This isn't a sodding invention! What frustrates me is not that this spurious patent claim failed - we should be grateful for that - but that it passed the obviousness test. It simply shouldn't have done. People in all kinds of businesses - like me - adjust business processes to improve efficiency all the time. Most people would never dare suggest that they were inventing anything, because invention is and should remain the act of creating something novel that didn't exist before.

    I have a specific example. In my business we produce publications. Two of the steps in the publishing process are indexing and copy-editing. Because we use structured content management, we are able to run these processes concurrently rather than consecutively, saving time.

    I would never dream of filing a patent on this, despite it being unusual (especially at the time we started doing it, more than 10 years ago). I benefit from it because I can make money from it. That's the point. If someone else takes the idea and implements their own system to do the same then fair enough; we can compete on price, quality, whatever.

    If you have done something smart with a business process, exploit it by selling it to the market! If it's good, you'll make money. But don't bank on being able to sit on your arse and license your "idea" to others and watch money roll in. That's just laziness.

  5. Daniel

    so let's get this right ....

    .... they were *authorising* the payment at one time, and then actually doing the transfer up to 18 hours later?

    Doing it all at one time might not be obvious to someone in the hospitality industry (i.e. a waiter?) but it ought to be the first and most obvious solution that anyone in the IT industry would propose.

    The fact that banks have leftover processes from 30 years ago that they are too fucking inept to get changed should not be something exploitable by people proposing spurious "inventions".

  6. Adrian Waterworth

    In one way...

    ...I can sympathise with these guys. They've come up with an idea and want to protect it, fair enough.

    However, I tend to side with the patent office on this one. There are far too many patents being granted for things that shouldn't be patentable, whether that's because there's prior art, or the "invention" is obvious, or it's just a new business process or a way of performing an existing process in software, etc.

    As far as I can see, the US patent system is an even bigger joke than the UK one 'cos it has allowed this thing to stand.

    Wonder if I can start a campaign for better patents?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thankfully, this is not the US..

    This IS a business method! And hardly the sort of invention the patent system (in this country) was designed for. Patents are there to protect technical innovation, not to allow a company to monopolise a method of paying for goods.

    Who on earth did these guys use as their patent attorneys? The cost of applying for a patent in the UK is typically £10-15k. Even with a hearing, £100k is extortionate. I think this is more likely to be the total cost of patent prosecution worldwide, which is a very different matter given all the translations required..

    The equivalent US patent application may have withstood a similar challenge, but that is because business methods ARE patentable in the states. Which is how Amazon came to patent their OneClick nonsense...

    This crops up all the time on The Register (and elsewhere on the net) so to be clear: there is a HUGE difference between US and European patent law. The US patent system is a complete shambles. In my opinion, the European system is not.

  8. Frank Haney

    A patent for using a computer

    This is another "Using A Computer" patent. That is: find something that people have been doing for tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, describe it then put "using a computer" at the end.

    IBM once managed to get a patent for queuing "Using A Computer".

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Boo Hoo!

    "We spent £100,000 trying to enforce this patent before we had to pull out because it was too expensive. We never managed to sell a licence – it was simply stolen."

    What a whiny little shit. Nothing was stolen because no patent was granted so there was nothing /to/ steal.

    The most telling thing about his statement is the word "enforce" - he seems to think that his US patent should automatically extend to over here. You actually spent £100k trying to /gain/ this patent which basically amounts to "show them the bill before you swipe the card"

    If we granted patents on the basis of how much money someone spends trying to get one, then General Electric would own the colour blue.

  10. Adrian
    Dead Vulture

    What a joke...

    I can't agree more that this patent fails on all 3 areas discussed, especially the complaint about obviousness.

    The article seems to paint Ingenico as a big evil entity, but the patent application really is obvious and I don't see why everytime I want to eat at a restaurant I should do my bit to make this 'little guy' rich for stating the obvious. I'd be more inclined to see the patent troll painted in a bad light...

    Yep, the patent system is a joke. But in this case it seems to have slightly redeamed itself.

  11. Robert Long


    Where's the invention? Where's the prototype? Where's the original idea (copying normal non-electronic practise is not original)?

    This is a junk patent which should never have been considered let alone revoked.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The "joker" is the NON-inventor, not the patent system

    Well done UK patents system for having the sense to throw out this frivolous non-patent.

    Now, please, lets have the REST of the world amend their rules to ensure that these non-inventions cannot be patented anywhere else either.

    We are absolutely sick and tired of people applying for bogus patents where there is no real invention, merely somebody predicting the obvious.

    The rest of the world may allow this sort of semi-legalised THEFT, but thankfully the UK has a little more intelligence than that.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Cash Tip

    I too always leave tips in cash - the tip is a transaction between me and the staff, not the restaurant.

    In an earlier employment I was the patent liaison person between my firm and our patent agents - there was some genuinely inventive work going on at that time in sheet metal rolling, factory automation and drive systems.

    My all time favourite patent that we filed was fantastically inventive, to do with protection arrangements for heavy current power converters using power transistors. Unlike thyristors, which safely fail short circuit, big transistors fail open circuit so, if they are under load, a lot of electrical energy is dissipated very fast (i.e. they explode). All sorts of ways of detecting impending failure and breaking the current were gone through until one of the guys came up with a brainwave: he put a thyristor back to front in parallel with the transistor which did nothing - its only purpose was to fail short circuit if the dV/dt across the transistor went above a certain level (sacrificial protection). Best of all, it could be an out of tolerance reject, as its only purpose in life was to fail, and it could be quite small as it never needed to switch current. That was the only case where the initial patent searches came back saying "Relevant Prior Art: none".

    As for the case in the original article, good on the UK Patent Office, shame on Nielsen. They have shown exactly the opposite of what he says: the UK Patent Office is *not* a joke.

  14. Peter Kay

    Implementation and research, not ideas

    are what should comprise a patent, or ensure the success of a product.

    So that a non obvious but easy to copy product (say Goretex, or Tippex, for argument's sake, even if possibly not ideal examples) are protected.

    Implementation is what makes a product work. Anyone could have the idea to make 'a really cool DAB radio' but few people have actually managed to make it profitable..

  15. A J Stiles

    patent office gets it right for once

    "We spent £100,000 trying to enforce this patent before we had to pull out because it was too expensive. We never managed to sell a licence – it was simply stolen."

    Whoa, stop right there. You "invented" something which not only would be obvious to an expert in the field (and therefore hardly deserves to be called an invention), but which you knew was specifically excluded from patentability.

    The fact that nobody licenced it would seem to suggest that either (1) they thought it was obvious and went ahead and did it, or (2) they didn't bother with it.

    Sometimes victims deserve the blame, and sometimes the little guy is in the wrong. A lot of bad things get said about the patent system and about patent offices, but this time I think they are actually on the mark.

  16. Mark

    Patent vs Trade Secret

    Patents were introduced because ideas were being kept secret and passed verblly on to the next generation (and lost if there were problems). It also meant that many people had to re-invent the same thing over again because they weren't passed the secret.

    So patents were introduced as an ALTERNATIVE to the TRADE SECRET.

    In recompense for everyone knowing the secret, we'd agreed to give a monopoly (really, a gentlemans' agreement) for a limited time.

    However, inventors seem to foget this origin and now see patents as THIER RIGHT. No, it isn't. If the patent office decided it didn't like the invention you could always keep it a secret, use NDA's nowadays to keep it secret: they work and are widely used.

    Of course, if you can't keep it secret without keeping it unused, you can't do that either. Then again, what is the public getting in return for your idea that they wouldn't have gotten anyway?

    a) If it's needed and you decide not to disclose it, someone else will think of it and use it. Nil points for you.

    b) If it isn't disclosed and nobody notices its absence, why should we have to pay for it? Nil points for you.

    This idea could not have been used as explained here whilst keeping it a secret. *HOW* it achieved the result explained here could be kept a secret, but someone could think of another way of implementing this outcome and this would not be patented (so this inventor would STILL be out of pocket). Because, remember, patents are not about the RESULT but HOW you get there. A mousetrap isn't a patent, but how you MAKE the mousetrap is.

    'couse medical patents have helped to muddy the water: they aren't *quite* patenting "a cold remedy" but they have patented "using this chemical to treat this disease" (and getting a patent on ANY implementation of GETTING the chemical, which isn't the HOW) and they are patenting "using this DNA fragment for somethin" (really, "something", not any specific use, just something. They have no idea apart from vague guesses what it could be used for).

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cash tip - not always easy

    I agree that leaving a cash tip is better for the staff, because there's no way of knowing what happens to their tip if it goes through the till. So usually I try to leave cash after the transaction if possible.

    However, I sometimes have to pick up the tab as a business expense. In that case I think it's fair that the staff get a tip like they usually would, but I need it on a receipt, otherwise it comes out of my pocket. So in that case it's very useful to have a system that lets me add a gratuity on a credit card bill.

    One other (dis)advantage of cash tipping is the somewhat reduced chance that the taxman will see any of it, but I don't even want to go there...

  18. Doug

    corrected headline ..

    UK company tries to patent tipping ...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ending Intellectual Poverty

    How baren must this man's imagination be to think that such a pitiful idea is worth patenting?

    He clearly needs support for his condition. I just didn't realise that that was what the US patent office was for.

  20. Phill Holland

    Stop It!

    I might patent browsing the internet whilst at work, I seemed to have cornered the market. There are alot of freeloaders around that are browsing the internet when they should be working that owe me royalities.

    I say this because this patent idea is blantantly cock too.

    This story reminds me of the "buy it now" button everybody in the on-line shopping market lays claim to have invented and tried to have patented, its just as pedantic and silly.

  21. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Not obvious

    Let me see if I understand this. The old system checked the bill and made sure that the customer had enough mony to pay it. That's the bill including food and drink. This wonderful patented invention - not obvious to anyone in the hospitality industry - was exactly thesae, but included one more item on the bill.

    Is the "non-obviousness" test different in industries run by cretins? Still, it explains something about hospitality management degrees and students ...

  22. Ray Foulkes

    EPO being cited to coerce UK patentability of software

    The European Patent Office is issuing patents in contravention of article 52 of the European Patent convention. See paragraph 2(c) of where it is very clear what the position should be.

    Companies are using these EPO granted "software patents" to try to weaken the UK patent office position regarding "software and business processes are not patentable". The current UK patent office policy needs to be supported vigorously. See for an example of citing EPO as virtuous in its wanton dis-regard of the patent convention.

  23. yeah, right.

    wrong conclusion.

    The "inventor" concludes that because the patent was found valid in the USA but invalid in the UK then this means the UK system is broken.

    The actual conclusion is that it's the US system that is completely dysfunctional, and the UK system seems to trying for some semblance of keeping patents for what they were intended.

    Good for the UK Patent office. Now if they can just continue resisting the pressure from certain corporations to allow the abortion known as software patents, things might be looking up.

  24. Kevin

    A non-IT comparison

    What I really hate about these business process patents is that changes in the way people do things appear to be inventions if a computer is involved because people think computers are hard.

    eg Amazon One-Click patent: It's just leaving out a couple of confirmation screens. It's a marketing idea (and probably a fair bit of work persuading the lawyers to let them do it). Any IT person, given the title of the patent alone would almost instantly know how to do it. ie it's completely obvious. But because it's online, and because they were first to do it, it becomes patentable. ARGHH. Just because nobody has comeup with an idea doesn't mean its implementation is an invention.

    eg2:The "12 items or less" checkouts at a supermarket. Do you think anybody would ever think of patenting that? No way. It's a common sense implementation of a clever idea (at the time it was first thought of). But if it involved a computer, they'd patent it.

    This credit card thing isn't novel or inventive even if the courts think it is. Even if it's a clever idea and it takes a month to implement the code, that's just elbow-grease. It's when somebody says "I have no idea how to implement that idea" and then a month later works it out - that's an invention.

    The world needs to accept that technology is not magic and stop calling every new technology twise an invention.

  25. Fraggle

    I bet that up and down the country...

    there are waiters/waitresses asking their boss "Why can't we just include a line on the bill for the tip?". Non-obvious indeed.

    "To people in the hospitality industry, using a combined authorise and pay system would not have occurred," - the real incongruence of this statement is that merely expecting the hospitality industry to be the ones coming up with the idea undoes the concept that it's a patent regarding the technical aspects of the payment system. Hospitality people do hospitality, not electronic banking!

  26. Pum

    Why exclude computer programs?

    It seems to me to be ridiculous to exclude computer programs. A useful and novel invention should be patentable if it is implemented by computer program. Of course it has to be a genuinely novel invention, and pass all the others tests, like not a business process, but excluding inventions in computer code is like excluding patent applications if they're made out of wood!

    I suppose if I invented something that would be implemented in computer code I would have to describe it in my patent application as a general purpose implementation, perhaps using pen, paper and an abacus - ah, I should patent that!

    From what I read, this patent should fail, but not on the computer program rule, but on the obviousness rule. This is not a patent, this is a new feature that should have appeared in some minor software update.

  27. Richard Silver badge

    @ Pum

    There is a very simple reason why computer programs should NEVER be patentable:

    They are copyrightable.

    UK (and to some extent, international) law provides for two major ways of protecting creative works:

    1) Copyright. Protects all forms of published and publishable works, regardless of the method(s) of publication chosen or available.

    Obviously a published work is available to other people, so won't die with the author.

    2) Patents. Protects machinery and similar physical items.

    The methods involved are published for everyone to see, so it doesn't die with the inventor.

    So that the inventor has a reason to patent (instead of keeping it a secret), there is a gentleman's agreement to allow the inventor to charge others for the use of his invention.

    The only bits of a computer that should be patentable are the physical hardware - the chips, the displays, the way the keys work etc.

    Software, by definition, is a published work.

    Therefore it clearly falls under copyright, and should not be patentable - this way, everybody else can clearly see what they can and cannot legally do with the work.

  28. Andy Davies


    "the process was not a patentable invention. The Patents Act excludes methods of doing business and computer programs as such."

    they remembered - well thank f*ck for that!

    AndyD 8-)#

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