Can Computer Software Be Patented?

Denise Wilkinson

In today’s digital age, computer software has become an integral part of our daily lives. From smartphones to laptops, almost every electronic device we use is powered by some form of software. As a result, the question arises – can computer software be patented?

What is a Patent?

Before delving into the world of software patents, let’s first understand what a patent is. A patent is a legal document that grants the inventor exclusive rights to their invention for a certain period. In return for this exclusive right, the inventor must disclose their invention publicly so others can learn from it and build upon it.

Can Software be Patented?

The short answer is yes; software can be patented. However, obtaining a patent for software is not as straightforward as it is for other inventions. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), in order for software to be eligible for a patent, it must meet specific criteria:

  • Utility: The software must have some practical use or function.
  • Novelty: The software must be new and not previously disclosed or available to the public.
  • Non-Obviousness: The software cannot be an obvious improvement on existing technology.

In addition to these criteria, the USPTO also requires that the inventor provides a detailed description of their invention in plain language so that someone skilled in the art can understand it.

The Pros and Cons of Software Patents

Like any other legal protection, there are both advantages and disadvantages to obtaining a patent for your software.

The Pros

  • Exclusive Rights: A patent grants you exclusive rights over your invention, which means you can prevent others from making, using, or selling your software without your permission.
  • Increased Credibility: Having a patent can increase the credibility of your software in the eyes of investors and potential customers. It shows that your invention is unique and has value.
  • Revenue Generation: A patent can also be a source of revenue generation. You can license your patent to others for a fee or sell it outright to someone who wants to use it.

The Cons

  • Cost: Obtaining a patent can be expensive, both in terms of time and money. The process can take years, and the fees associated with filing and maintaining a patent can add up quickly.
  • Limited Duration: A patent only lasts for a certain period (usually 20 years from the date of filing), after which it becomes part of the public domain, and anyone can use it.
  • Limited Scope: A patent only covers what is explicitly described in the application. This means that someone else could create similar software that achieves the same function but uses different code or algorithms.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, computer software can be patented if it meets specific criteria set forth by the USPTO. While obtaining a patent has its advantages, it also comes with significant drawbacks that must be considered before embarking on the process. As with any legal matter, it’s best to consult with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law before taking steps towards obtaining a patent for your software.