If you have a great idea and invent new computer software, would you think about protecting it? With today’s technology, computer environments and the internet, information about how things work travels among groups and individuals at a very high rate of speed. As soon as you start using your new software or start marketing it to potential customers, you run the risk of someone learning about it and creating something similar. Much like patents on other inventions and new products, software patents can and do provide a measure of protection for you. The purpose of a software patent is to give you protection from competitors while you commercialize or use the new creation.
Software Patent Naysayers
Not everyone agrees, though, that software should be patentable. The argument centers on the ability of software creators and inventors to build what US Patent legislation calls “new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter” which qualifies for a patent. Some software developed on computers does not create anything new but simply uses combinations of existing algorithms, code or other ways to manipulate internal calculations within the computer itself. Others argue too that open-source and free software communities argue that all software running on today’s computers should be free. In most other cases, though, the software created or invented contains creative and innovative ways to use the technologies available in the computer and thus, should be patentable. Ultimately, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (PTO) and U.S. Courts decide what constitutes “new and useful” or patentable software.
Benefits of Software Patents
What benefits do software patents offer to you, the inventor? And, do you need a patent for your computer software creation? One way to evaluate what works in today’s marketplace is to take a look at what the larger companies are doing in the area of software patents. In a free and open market, where there is little concentration or attempt to control the marketplace, even smaller companies and individual inventors typically worry less about someone stealing their idea or a competitor creating a “me too” or similar product. However, if the marketplace is concentrated and larger companies try to control who has access to different types of software, then a patent for your new software creation might be a good idea, simply to protect your efforts from other companies in the marketplace.
Software Patent Infringment
Within the computing and computer marketplace, many of the largest companies frequently engage in legal actions related to patents and patent protections. Microsoft, for example, owns over 30,000 patents in the computer and software market. Similarly, companies like Apple, Google, IBM, and others have patented software as well as hardware devices. Recently, Microsoft arranged licensing agreements for its mobile or Windows-based phones with several mobile device manufacturers, including Samsung. In addition, Apple recently filed lawsuits against several other handset manufacturers. Oracle is currently suing Google over the use of Java in the Android phones. It seems that new patent-related discussions, arguments and even court battles are reported every week.
Disclosing the Details
As you consider creating new software – for computers, mobile phones and a variety of other devices – think about how a software patent can help protect your creation. Part of the patent process, though, does require you to publicly share the details of your invention – usually in the form of a patent application. By doing so, and if the U.S. patent authority grants or awards you a patent, then you have the right to exclude others from making, offering for sale, using, importing or exporting the same thing. Basically, that means that you will be the only individual or company which has the legal right to produce and sell the software creation. Patents in the United States do not always apply overseas and so many times patents also need to be granted by countries where you expect to do business in order to protect your interests internationally. But, once a patent is granted by being the sole producer or business that can make the software, you effectively control the market for that product. As long as you pay maintenance fees on the patent to the PTO, the term of the patent will last for 20 years in the United States.
Property Owner Rights
A patent is basically a property right. You own the software property and are free sell, license, mortgage, assign, transfer or give away rights to the software products just like any other property. Software patents give you protection to commercially utilize your invention through any marketing and sales efforts you choose. Keep in mind, though, that patent protections, not only for computer software but for most products, at least in the U.S. are enforced through Federal civil courts. Lawsuits can be a time consuming and expensive process when engaged, but the initial patent protection gives you an opportunity to bring your ideas to market, even in a highly competitive marketplace like computers or mobile technology.
Software Patent Example
Want to see what a software patent looks like? Below, we’ve included an example of a software patent filed by Oracle. It should give you a general understanding of what a software patent actually looks like.