Computer Implemented Inventions
The following information is relevant where the innovative aspect underpinning your invention is “computer implemented” – e.g. a software app.
There is no single form of protection that is appropriate for protecting computer implemented inventions. Instead, a number of different forms of Intellectual Property (IP) protection must be considered.
Patent protection provides a powerful monopoly for an invention and generally viewed as being the strongest form of protection for a technical invention.
In many parts of the world – including the UK and Europe – software as such is excluded from patentability. This does not mean that it is impossible to obtain a granted patent for a computer implemented invention. However, it is only possible to do so if the invention is new, inventive and – crucially for computer implemented inventions – provides a “technical” effect and solves a “technical” problem.
The meaning of the word “technical” is somewhat open to interpretation and this is a constantly evolving area of patent law. For example, if a computer program, when loaded into a computer, is capable of bringing about a “technical effect” which goes beyond the normally expected physical interactions between software and hardware, then the computer implemented invention may indeed be patentable.
However, it is perhaps simpler to describe computer implemented inventions which are generally accepted as not being patentable. For example, computer implemented inventions which seek to solve purely financial, commercial or mathematical problems (e.g. normally solved by an accountant or business person) are excluded from patentability.
In effect, this means that many software apps are not patentable in their own right because they do not involve a “technical effect” which goes beyond the normally expected physical interactions between software and hardware. Of course, there are exceptions and, depending on what the app actually does, there may be scope for demonstrating that a particular app does indeed satisfy the technical requirements for patentability.
Regardless of whether it will be possible to gain a granted patent for a computer implemented invention, it may still be worthwhile filing a patent application. This would provide an application number and official filing date and allow you to legitimately use the term “Patent Pending” for several years while the application is examined at the Patent Office. This can have a considerable commercial deterrent effect to the casual infringer. However, you may ultimately need to accept that in certain circumstances it could be difficult to secure patent granted patent rights to be enforced against an infringer.
As you can see, the assessment of whether or not a particular computer implemented invention would qualify for patent protection is not straightforward. If you believe that your computer implemented invention does qualify for patent protection, or if you would prefer our further advice on this issue, please follow this link to return to our Technical Disclosure Form.
Information on other forms of IP rights that may be relevant to computer implemented inventions are summarised below:
Copyright exists automatically upon creation in the UK. You therefore already own copyright protection for the code relating to your computer implemented invention. The limitation of copyright protection is that it only prevents actual copying of your software code or content. It does not actually protect the underlying concept itself. You should not therefore solely rely on copyright protection.
Another category of IP which may be relevant is Registered Designs. Registered Designs are a relatively quick and inexpensive way of protecting the appearance of a product; however, they can also be used to protect the appearance of graphical user interfaces (GUI’s). A well-known example of a GUI which is protected by Registered Design rights is that of Apple Inc.
The aesthetic appearance of your system’s GUI can be protected across the EU using the Community Design system.
If you have a brand name and/or logo associated with your computer implemented invention then it may be possible to obtain monopoly rights by registering it as a Trade Mark. A registered trade mark can be enforced against any competitors providing the same or similar product under the same or a confusingly similar name. To put this into context, there are many, many social media sites offering very similar functionalities as facebook.com; however, it is Facebook itself which has become most popular with users and it is only Facebook who can use the name FACEBOOK in relation to social media and networking services.
There is little to stop the others setting up their own social media sites with similar functionality and calling it something else (indeed many exist); however, they would not have the benefit of the most valuable commodity; the reputation and good will in the name.
Please follow this link for details of our fixed-fee trade mark filing options.