What Is a Software Patent?

Business software patents are distributed to protect the development of new computer software designed to improve performance for businesses. 

Intellectual property (IP) is a hotly contested subject in the realm of technology. Because computer software can be such an abstract discipline, software patents are not legally defined. 

The method of protecting IP differs around the world when it comes to software patents in particular. In the United States, patents are not granted for protection of ideas that are considered to be too abstract. Many patent applications have been denied for this reason. 

Restrictions for patents do not cover any software inventions in Europe. 

The patent and copyright processes are similar. However, they cover certain aspects of intellectual property regarding software. For business software to be protected under a copyright, it must be written out or "expressed." Patents, however, can cover software developments in the ideation stage, or procedures and methods. Business software patents tend to be more expensive and complicated than copyrights. 

For software to qualify for coverage under a patent, it must:

  • Cover concrete subject matter (not too abstract)
  • Be applicable to the tech industry
  • Be completely original (a patent application must argue for originality when it is an innovation of a pre-existing software)
  • Meet the formal standards set for patent applications

Things to keep in mind when applying for a business software patent:

  • Protection of abstract ideas, even those with a commercial value, have differing legal methods depending on the patent's location. 
  • If too many software innovations are patented, this could cause developments in the realm of technology to come to a crawl as everything gets bogged down with legal issues.
  • The categories of what is and is not patentable when it comes to software differ throughout the world.
  • Software innovation can get legally and technically complicated. 

How Software Patents Work

Software patents in the United States protect computer processes in the form of software. All inventions must be original, inventive, and cannot be obvious innovations in order to be patentable, and software is no exception. 

Business software patents have to be tied to a machine to be eligible for protection. This is to ensure that individuals do not attempt to patent their methods of conducting business, or processes that are not linked to anything concrete. 

Inventions or innovations in the software world are meant to provide a new way of functionality within the technological process. Individuals applying for a business software patent must have a thorough understanding of how their innovation will work and affect the overall system. Basically, you need a big-picture view as well as a detailed understanding. 

The application process for a software patent should be sure to cover all the bases for full protection. Ask yourself these questions when mapping out your IP coverage needs:

  • What is the overarching vision of this innovation?

  • What do I hope to accomplish with this new process?

  • How will this affect the software as a whole?

  • How will the innovation affect specific aspects of the software and processes?

When you are sure that everything from the big idea of the invention down to its unique features and processes are covered, you will be able to secure the best protection for your IP. 

Inventors should always begin by performing a patent search to be sure they can showcase what makes their invention original and unique during the application process. 

Patenting Business Methods

Once business methods were allowed to be protected under patent laws, an influx of patent applications hit the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

This overwhelming number of applications was due to the fact that the United States was the only country to allow such patents, and because the invention of an innovative business process is actually fairly easy to conceptualize.

Since around 2002, obtaining a patent for a business method has been difficult. The patent laws continue to change regarding whether business methods can be protected.

Currently, if an individual wants to patent his or her business method, the person must make sure it can produce practical results that can be measured.

Business software patents can be complicated to apply for, but a patent attorney will help ensure your IP is properly protected. 

If you need help with a business software patent, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.