Patents: Fisher Rosemount Systems Inc.’s Application

The first decision from the Comptroller for 2010 offers an interesting discussion on how to assess an invention’s technical contribution when applying the Aerotel/Macrossan and Symbian guidelines.


In Fisher Rosemount Systenms Inc. Application BL 0/003/10 12 Jan 2010 the applicant appealed against the examiner’s report that the claims of the invention were excluded from patentability because they related to a computer program as such. The invention related to a process control system and in particular to a method of accessing process control data, viewing and modifying that data and using the modified data to update control programs within the system. The invention described a method by which the operator is able to develop and to add functionality to his or her own applications at any time without the need to rewrite or compile the control system software. The applicant claimed:
“A system for accessing process control data, comprising:
  • a pre-generated partial class that includes pre-generated class elements associated with accessing process control data;
  • a user-generated partial class associated with the pre-generated partial class and having user-defined class elements that can access process control data via the pre-generated class elements;
  • a user interface configured to instantiate a client object based on the pre-generated partial class and the user-generated partial class and configured to access process control data based on the pre-generated and user-defined class elements; and
  • a client model configured to load an object handle and a real object associated with the client object and communicate process control data between the client object and a server via the object handle and the real object.”
In his skeleton argument, the applicant’s patent agent offered the following alternative claim:
“A process control system having a process control machine and a client machine, the process control machine being communicatively coupled to control devices in a process control system, the process control machine being operable to automate and manage the process control system in accordance with process control data, the process control system further comprising a system for providing process control data, comprising:
  • a pre-generated partial class that includes pre-generated class elements associated with accessing process control data;
  • a user-generated partial class associated with the pre-generated partial class and having user-defined class elements that can access process control data via the pre-generated class elements;
  • a user interface configured to instantiate a client object based on the pre-generated partial class and the user-generated partial class and configured to access process control data based on the pre-generated and user-defined class elements; and
  • a client model configured to load an object handle and a real object associated with the client object and communicate process control data between the client object and a server via the object handle and the real object,
the client machine being operable to generate an output in accordance with the communicated process control data.”

The hearing officer rejected both claims.

As for the claim as originally drafted, Mr. Micklewright said:
“In my view the contribution relates to a system for enabling a user to access process control data. This is achieved by instantiating a client object based on pre-generated and user-generated partial classes. The user-generated partial class elements access the process control data via the pre-generated class elements. The client object has associated with it a real object which communicates process control data between a server and the client object via an object handle. Dr Lockey contends that the contribution relates to a new process control system. This does not however seem to me to be the case except to the extent that the means for accessing process control data is considered part of a process control system. The same process control data is used to control the same process plant. The only thing that is different is the way a user accesses the process control data.”

The alternative claim provided more difficulty because it claimed “a process control system” rather than a “system for accessing process control data” and the process control system had a process control machine coupled to control devices in the process control system and a client machine. Relying on BL 0/150/07 where the hearing officer found that a first version of claim 1 was excluded but an alternative version was not, the applicant argued that the invention could be considered a system for monitoring a process control system as it could retrieve real-time process control data. The hearing officer disagreed:
“I am not convinced the same arguments apply in the present case. The invention does not include any direct manipulation or control of specific features or entities of the physical process that could be said to relate to monitoring of the process. Rather it sets out a general scheme for making it easier for a user to access process control data. The invention in BL O/150/07 related to actual manipulation of entities of the physical process. The present invention does not have such a function. Moreover the features added into the alternative version of claim 1 are all entirely standard features of process control systems such as those discussed in the discussion of the prior art at the beginning of the divisional application. They therefore cannot be said to contribute to the actual contribution made by the claim. It is therefore immaterial in this case as to whether the claim is directed towards a process control system or to a system for accessing process control data. Moreover the fact that an output is generated does not add to the actual contribution. In BL O/150/07 the output related very specifically to the flow analysis. In the present case the output is non-specific and in fact all the claim says about this output is that it is “in accordance with the communicated process control data”. The substantive features of the claim, namely the use of pre-generated and user-generated partial classes to instantiate client objects associated with real objects to access process control data, are the same. I therefore conclude that the contributions made by both the first version of claim 1 and the alternative version of claim 1 are in substance the same.”

Mr Micklewright could find nothing in the invention that took it outside the excluded field.
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About Jane Lambert

I am a barrister specializing in intellectual property, technology, media and entertainment and competition law. I specialize in helping SME (small and medium enterprises) protect and exploit their investment in brands, design, technology and the arts. SME require intellectual property (legal protection for their intellectual assets) at least as much as big business but their limited means restrict the way they can use it. Looking after such clients wisely requires skills and knowledge which have taken me years to learn.
This entry was posted in excluded matter, Fisher Rosemount Systems Application, Patents, software. Bookmark the permalink.

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