The intellectual property protection of software is extremely important for every industry. After all, the modern society depends on computer software. However, the intellectual property of it has been debated in recent years. Back in 2014, the United States Supreme Court made a huge patent decision. They stated that simply adding computer language to ordinary aspects of technology were not enough for someone to deserve a patent.
Before this decision was made, many thought that software patents would be completely eliminated. The Supreme Court decided not to take it that far and noted that software patents will still be allowed. Nevertheless, in order for someone to earn a patent, they would have to either improve an existing technological process or improve the functioning of the computer. Following this decision, a lot of patents became invalid since district court judges figured that most of them were simply abstract ideas that never even deserved a patent to begin with. It also became harder to obtain software patents because of the expectations.
In the following two years, the judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit have found four different cases where they affirmed the validity of software patents. The first case revolved around DDR Holdings vs Hotels.com, which became the only case that got ruled in favor of the patent’s holder for almost a year and a half. During the trial, the judges first discussed if the invention was directed to an abstract idea. However, a conclusion was never reached. Nevertheless, they did end up coming to a conclusion that the patent was designed so that it helps overcome a problem that’s currently arising in the realm of computer networks.
On May 12, 2016, the judges once again ruled in favor of the patent holder in the Enfish vs Microsoft case. Enfish claimed to have built a self-referential database that represented an improvement over the referential database model. Namely, the self-referential model allowed users to search for data faster and also allowed for more flexibility in configuring the database. During this trial, the court stated that the patent was not directed to an abstract idea. Instead, it represented an improvement to the way computers operate. The court also found that the patent solved a problem in the software arts.
Another interesting case revolved around Bascom vs AT&T. Following this case, it was concluded that if an inventive concept can transform an abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention, then it is more than simply an abstract idea. This gave numerous companies more insight on how to figure out if their software was eligible for a patent.
Cases like these showed us that software is completely patent eligible. However, if you’re filing for a patent, then your software will need to solve a specific problem and not be directed to an abstract idea. In other words, if someone reads your patent application and doesn’t understand exactly what the innovation is and how it solves a specific problem, then your innovation probably won’t be eligible for a patent.
Every patent application should define a specific problem, explain what type of technical solution was made to solve the problem, and how it could be implemented. Only after you’ve done all this can you hire a software patent attorney and try to get your patent approved.
It’s hard to predict the future of computer software patentability. After all, there haven’t been a lot of cases where a software invention was eligible for a patent. However, each case helps inventors learn more about how to determine patent eligibility for their innovations. Every company is encouraged to at least try and see if their software patents could be valid, even though the odds are against them.