There have been a number of important cases on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the patenting of software recently. In the UK, there were two cases, both initially rejected.
Here's the reasoning behind turning down the application from CVON Innovations Limited:
The invention concerns a mobile telecommunications system which modifies messages sent between particular users over a communications network. The users may be members of one or more “groups” - such as an on-line discussion forum, club or society websites, or other such communities. Messages are modified on the basis of users’ membership of particular such groups.
The modification to the message may, for example, be the addition of an advertisement or other promotional information relevant to the group membership of the sender or recipient. The invention also concerns authentication of a user’s membership of a particular group.
The hearing officer followed the steps set out in Aerotel in order to determine whether the invention was excluded from patentability. Having considering the prior art and the interaction between the various features of the invention, he concluded that the contribution made by the invention lay in providing subscriber-driven updating and authentication of the subscriber’s group membership data, which is held as part of a message modification service.
He found that this contribution fell solely within excluded matter, as it was no more than a method for doing business and a program for a computer. Regardless of whether step four of the Aerotel test is an optional check or not, the hearing officer was in any event satisfied that the contribution made by the invention contained nothing which was technical in nature.