German software patents on graphical user interfaces?

von Bastian Best

Patent applications on new types of GUIs oftentimes run into trouble in Germany because the examiners consider them to be “presentation of information“. As the avid reader will know, the presentation of information is one of the items on the list of subject-matters excluded “as such” from patent protection.

In the recent Image Stream decision (BGH Bildstrom – X ZR 37/13), however, the Federal Court of Justice (FCJ) held that the exclusion is overcome when the presentation of information serves the solution of a technical problem with technical means, thereby meeting the second hurdle of the German three-step approach. In addition, this decision is particularly remarkable because of its quite liberal understanding of the technical problem solved by the patent under consideration.

The Image Stream patent

The patent concerned the visual displaying of images of a body lumen captured by a swallowable capsule equipped with a camera. Such captured image streams comprising possibly thousands of still images can then be reviewed by medical personnel for diagnostic purposes.

Since the rate at which a human user can effectively review an image stream was said to be limited to around fifteen frames per second, the object underlying the patent was to enable a user to increase that rate without missing important information that may be present in any of the images included in the stream.

Claim 1 of the patent reads (English translation with emphasis added):

A method for displaying an image stream, the method comprising: receiving images acquired by a swallowable capsule, the images forming an original image stream; and displaying simultaneously on a monitor at least two subset image streams, each subset image stream including a separate subset of images from the original image stream.

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