A Soft Introduction to Software Patents
Author: Ash Tankha
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 employing or performing certain function or process and as embodied in a
computer readable medium.
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 â€œIs software patentableâ€. 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 sur