Software Patents Review # 2 dated 26/01/2024

Software Patents Review # 2 dated 26/01/2024

During election times, especially in local elections, it is not uncommon to see voters being bribed to vote for a particular party, but have you ever heard of voters paying to cast their vote. Thanks to the mysteries of the patent system, this scenario is not as improbable as it sounds. A patent granted by the Indian Patent Office on 14th March, 2023 titled, “Online voting system and method via code indication (symbol)” could turn the improbable scenario into a reality.

A patent gives the patent owner the right to exclude others from using that invention for a period of 20 years. Therefore, if India’s election commission were to implement a similar method even unknowingly, they and their software development firms could be sued for patent infringement. In other words, this patent could end up creating a toll tax that Indian citizens have to pay to exercise their democratic rights.

A 20 year monopoly should be handed out only in extremely rare, deserving cases, right? Therefore, we examined this patent to see how worthy it is. Under Section 3(k) of the Indian Patents Act, “mathematics, business methods, computer programs per se [emphasis ours], and algorithms,” are not patentable subject matter. Per se means that software is intrinsically not patentable but the magical hands of businessmen, lawyers and vested interests has led to some extremely convoluted interpretations.

In its opening section, the patent reads:

[0001] The present invention relates to a Software Application for Online voting system and method via code indication (Symbol) . The invention particularly relates to software application for online voting system and method to vote cast via with code indication (Symbol) and that tracks votes cast online via a network.

Right off the bat, there seem to be clear grounds for disqualification, but let’s read further.
The authors then cite prior art from other patents. So far, the patent is reasonably well written and clear but then it takes an unusual turn to become grammatically incorrect and confusing. A short extract from Section 0007 titled, “Drawbacks in existing state of art” is copied verbatim below:

1- A voter cannot know about to cast their vote, which to candidate has got it.
2- Outsider living person can not to be vote, at the time of voting date.
3- The peoples have to take leave for voting.
4- The voter have doubt on final result after voting.

The next section, 0008 titled “Novel features of our invention,” is the heart of this document as it contains the justification for granting a 20 year monopoly. Again, we quote verbatim from this section:

1- Voting will be free , fair , transparent & no doubt on this online process ,by tracking method of our vote cast .

2- After declare result , the voter’s know about their vote cast , which candidate to got it .
3- Voters could be voting from any where in the world at the date of cast vote .
4- No make to stand in long queue .
5- No required for vvpat .
6- No required to safety & management for voting machine .
7- No worry about to ragging of voting machine .

Now, disclosure of the invention is at the very core of the patenting system because patents are a social contract between state and the inventor. The inventor discloses their invention, in return for a 20 year monopoly. When the term of the monopoly expires, the invention passes into the commons where it benefits society at large. During the industrial era, many inventors protected their inventions as trade secrets so as to prevent others from copying those inventions. The downside of this was that when the inventor died, the secrets of creating and managing their inventions were lost with them. The patent system emerged as a social contract where inventors submitted a working model of their invention along with a detailed description of how to work that invention. In return, the state granted them a monopoly on that invention for a limited period of time, usually around 20 years. Given how confusing and opaque the language in section 0008 is, it does not serve the purpose of disclosure at all.

The subsequent sections recite a series of steps that do not stand out in any way for novelty, and recite general purpose software. It is quite likely that someone else grappling with the same problem would be able to independently arrive at a similar solution. Unfortunately, that person would not be able to claim independent invention as a defense because the patenting system is a first-past-the-post system, where the first person to file the patent gets the right to exclude others. Imagine if Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, who were the first persons to climb Everest, had the right to exclude others from the summit. As of July 2022, there have been approximately 11,346 summit ascents by 6,098 people[1]. Those 6,098 people might have had to pay a royalty to Hilary and Norgay, or their successors.

In the final section, the claims of the patent include a software application coupled to one or more processor units coupled to one or more memory units, configured to register a user, determine a constituency associated with the user, display a list of candidates, a method for online voting, evaluating the personal identification information submitted by the voter, and generating a code indication (Symbol) for tracking and indicating the selection of the vote cast.

Do you think that this patent deserves a 20 year monopoly that gives the patent holder the right to exclude others from using this invention?

[1] 13 Facts about Everest Expedition by Dinesh Bhusal at
13 Facts about Everest Expedition – Amigo Treks & Expedtion. Accessed on 26th January, 2023.

1 Like

ViewPDF(14).pdf (711.3 KB)

For those who are interested in checking out this patent, the same is uploaded here.

1 Like

How did this patent get approved in the first place? Is there a process for it to be challenged to have it withdrawn?

1 Like

My understanding is that the patent examiners have very less time to review each patent, there is pressure on them to improve approval speeds and probably no disincentive for approving wrong patents. Will see if we can file a challenge to this patent