Software Patent

What Does Software Patent Mean?

A software patent is a patent that is provided to enhance computer performance by means of a computer application.


There is no legal or conclusive definition for a software patent. This and the topic of related intellectual property (IP) protection rights have been intensely debated at all levels in the tech world. Different countries have different restrictions on patenting software innovations. For example, U.S. patent law does not permit patents that involve abstract ideas. This restriction has been used to deny software patents. In the European Union (EU), software applications, as a whole, are excluded from patent restrictions.

Techopedia Explains Software Patent

Although similar in approach, the copyrighting and patenting of software protect different IP aspects. Copyright protection is only provided to expressions and exempt to ideas, procedures or operational/computing methods, whereas patents may cover ideas, procedures and operational methods. However, a software patent’s cost and enforcement may be higher, depending on the complexity of the patent’s requirements. Again, like other patent categories, software patents also need to be applied according to country or region.

The following criteria apply to patent protection:

    1. The subject matter should be of patentable category.
    2. The innovation should be in the nature of industrial application.
    3. The patentable idea must be new and not something in existence. The change claimed between the existing item and innovation is essential and significant for consideration.
    4. The disclosure of the innovation must meet formal patent standards.

Some concerns for a software patent are:

    1. A software patent may involve the protection of abstract ideas that may have commercial value. The legal boundaries used to define an abstract idea are not well defined and may differ according to region and law.
    2. Allowing the patenting of software may lead to reduced innovation in the technology world, as there may be dependencies and interdependencies for different software and discourage the same. Determining these is easy, even for software application developers or designers.
    3. Patentable and non-patentable software does not have a globally recognized separation.
    4. There may be legal and technical complications related to understanding software innovation and associated technical requirements.

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.