A Soft Introduction to Software Patents

A definition of software patent is hard and one may not find the definition on any patent office website. Software embodied in a physical computer readable medium and aiding an innovative process or machine is considered patentable. In order to obtain a software patent, the patent application has to subtly claim the software as employingor performing certain function or process and as embodied in a computer readable medium. and attorney software

Software patents have a very recent history as the first software patent granted was in 1981, in the legal case of Diamond v. Diehr. The claimed invention is a heat treatment of rubber, wherein software code is employed to compute the optimum time duration for the treatment. In another case of State Street Bank & Trust v. Signature Financial Group, a software business method was granted a patent in the year 1998, redefining software patentability. Software patentability has been a topic of debate world over. The first question an inventor, who wishes to patent his invention, asks is “Is software patentable”. The short answer is that the US patent office does grant software patents, and there has been a surge in software patenting in the US.

A classification of software patents is virtually nonexistent, although a majority of recent patents are software patents based on the above criteria and about 1400 patents are purely on computational software. Major companies like IBM, AT&T, Siemens, HP and Microsoft boast of an extensive software patent portfolio. IBM possesses 31,995 US patents, HP possesses 21,000 patents worldwide as on 2003, Microsoft possesses 5000 US patents and Siemens possesses more than 10,000 issued and pending US patents. Microsoft and Siemens have a cross-licensing agreement to enable increased access to each others patent portfolios. In the USPTO database there are about 25123 claimed software patents and about 284978 granted patents that disclose the use of software in their inventions.

Software patents will surge a rise in software innovation and also enhance the quality of software protection. Cross-licensing agreements support even higher level of innovation and interaction in the software industry. Software patents not only protect marketing rights for a company but also their intellectual property, thereby providing a driving and inspiring force for the programmers.

Don’t even get started anyone on the advantages of software products in day to day life. Software products range from operating systems, encryption software, web development, virtual reality, gaming software to customized software solutions for sectors like medical, banking, aviation, military, etc; software has been the savior for many industries. Without software, humans may not have envisioned such advancement in technology and consequently the quality of life.