STANDARD Bank and MTN yesterday asked the North Gauteng High Court to postpone indefinitely the case of patent infringement brought by IT company 3MFuture Africa.

The two listed companies are disputing 3MFuture Africa's definition of an invention.

MTN and Standard Bank relied on a section in the Patents Act which states that anything consisting of a computer programme should not be considered to be an invention .

The case, due to run until next Friday , cannot continue until the court rules on the exception raised by Standard Bank and MTN. Judge Tati Makgoka will pass judgment this morning.

3MFuture Africa claims Standard Bank and MTN infringed on its invention that permits secure credit card transactions to be made to remote merchants using mobile devices. The company claims Standard Bank and MTN used technology it had patented to launch MTN Banking.

The invention allows a consumer to activate their card before making a payment and also allows the card to be deactivated after the transaction has been finalised, thus preventing fraud.

3MFuture Africa lists a number of claims in three categories: the transaction authorisation system, the computer programme and methods used in the system. The objection from MTN and Standard Bank is that the computer programme claims imply the patent is not an invention.

Counsel for the MTN Group and MTN Mobile, Philip Ginsburg, told the court there were claims that were not subject matter for determination.

"Claims related to computer programmes are not valid claims. If the court find that claims for computer programmes are not a subject matter for patentability, questions arise whether the court can grant any relief. We contend that your lordship cannot grant any relief on the patent specification as it stands."

Mr Ginsburg said a valid patent was a precondition for a patent infringement claim.

Cedric Puckrin, for 3MFuture Africa, said the programme was part of a process. "This is not a computer programme. It is a computer programme which performs a method and a system. It is a programme that allows the system to work."

He said he was surprised that MTN and Standard Bank had asked that the matter should be decided separately and before the trial began. During a pretrial conference in June, the parties stated there were no issues that needed to be decided separately.

"We have wasted two days of court time. This is the fault of all the defendants. There was no warrant for raising this at the first day of the trial."

mabuzae@bdfm.co.za