Computer patents usually refer to software patents, which protect unique software creations. Although you can patent software, you should find out how necessary it is to patent your creation, because the process can be complicated and costly.

About Software Patents

It's possible to patent software in the U.S. These inventions are usually referred to as computer-implemented processes, but it's the software that's protected.  A person can protect software if it's unique and tied to a machine. “Unique” is defined as being non-obvious and novel, the same patent requirements for inventions in other industries. 

You can't patent something you do in your head, but if the process involves a physical machine, like a computer, you have an object that's eligible for a patent. As long as it's a unique process and described properly when you file for a patent, you should be able to get one.

If you want a patent for software, you should begin with a patent search. It's important to detail what makes your creation unique and to be able to describe it in a way that showcases its uniqueness. You might ask yourself if you want to invest the following when seeking a patent: 

  • Time
  • Money
  • Resources

By the time you've conducted an adequate search to make sure your creation is original and that no other patents exist for it, you may have a detailed report between five and seven single-spaced pages. In this assessment, you should have a complete report outlining all the information you found. You should also have a thorough understanding of the invention and get a handle on your likelihood of obtaining protection.

Tips on Patenting Software

Ask yourself if you really need a patent for your software-related invention. Before rashly filing, think long and hard about this. In many places around the globe, computer programs have copyright protections in place. One of the biggest advantages of copyright protection is its simplicity. This type of protection needs no formalities such as registration, and international copyright protection is automatic — as soon as someone creates a work, it's protected under copyright law

Copyright owners hold onto that protection for a long time. It may last as long as the owner lives plus 50 years, and some countries extend the protection to 70 years after death.

By contrast, you must apply for a patent in each country where you want patent protection. These patent applications are formal and substantial. Your patented invention will be made public. Due to the complexity of the requirements, inventors often seek help from legal experts. Patent protection lasts far less time than copyright protection, with a general term lasting 20 years from the date the application was filed. 

With so many restrictions, complexities, and a shorter period of protection, why do people bother to patent software-related inventions? People have various reasons. One of the main reasons has to do with how far copyright protection goes: it only extends to expressions. Copyright protects a computer program's literal expressions, but it offers no protection for the ideas underlying the program, and these ideas can have a substantial commercial value.

Because patent requirements are so complicated, it can be expensive to get and enforce patents. If you don't have a wealth of resources at your disposal, take the time to consider if it's worth going through the trouble to a patent a software-related invention. Ask yourself if that's really the best way to protect it. Instead, you may want to look into other possibilities to protect your creation, such as the following:

Another point to consider is what you actually want to protect from competitors. Identify your creation's core part. Although software may be used in a computer or other object, software is often designed and distributed separately from the hardware. The core part of your invention may lie in a system, a method, or the processing of data.

If you choose to file a software patent, conduct sufficient research to make sure going through the process is worth the time and effort it will take. You may find other options that are less costly and complicated that give you sufficient protection for your creation.

If you need help with computer patents, 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.