Software patents in Germany: Are mathematical methods patentable? – Airplane Status

von Bastian Best

The Federal Court of Justice (FCJ)’s Airplane Status decision (BGH X ZB 1/15 – Flugzeugzustand) concerns another item on the list of subject-matters excluded from patent protection “as such”, namely mathematical methods.

The patent application under consideration concerned a method for determining the position, velocity and orientation of an airplane. Claim 1 reads (English translation):

A method for determining an airplane status, namely the position, velocity and orientation of the airplane, comprising the steps of: determining an amount n of measurement values xi with i=1,…,n of a inertia system which determines the airplane status, wherein the measurement values xi are points in the k-dimensional space, processing the measurement values xi in a Kalman filter for estimating the airplane status, characterized in that: for each amount n of measurement values xi of the inertia system a first factor mn and a second factor rn are calculated and these calculated factors are fed into the Kalman filter for further processing, wherein the factor mn is the center point vector and the factor rn is the radius of a k-dimensional sphere Bn, within which all points xi with i=1,…,n are located; wherein the sphere Bn is an as small as possible k-dimensional sphere, which without exception contains all points xi with i=1,…,n of the amount n of measurement values.

As can be seen, the claimed method was directed essentially to a mathematical algorithm used for the determination of an airplane’s status.

The Federal Patent Court had rejected the application based on the argument that the invention differed from the prior art only by the claimed mathematical calculations which were non-technical and thus irrelevant for the assessment of inventive step ...

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