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Patenting software: can it be done?

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Patenting software: can it be done?

Patenting software

Patenting software: lots of businesses and inventors believe this to be an impossible task. But is that really the case? And are there any real benefits? We’ve asked three people with different backgrounds for their opinion on this matter.

Software is a tool
Patent legislation exists to protect technological innovation, and this protection is separate from the way in which technology is implemented. Innovations implemented in software can certainly be protected by a patent – as long as the innovation is of a technological nature. Image and sound compression can be protected by patents, regardless of whether this takes place in software or hardware, and a number of patents have already been granted in this field. A patent could also be successfully requested for a new and innovative dynamic electronic television programme guide, for example. However, there is no way to protect an investment scheme with a patent, and writing it in software makes no difference to that.

Jasper Groot Koerkamp
Patent Attorney V.O.

An impossible task
The Pirate Party takes a critical stance on patent law. We would like to ensure that patent legislation is drafted in such a way that the rights of inventors are protected and the development costs can be recuperated, without placing limitations on innovation. With regard to software development, we view the free availability of reusable building blocks (classes, libraries) as a positive development. However, granting patents for lines of code (software) is an impossible task and will mainly play into the hands of clean-room implementations (to avoid patents). As a developer, it’s impossible to avoid everything that has the potential to be patented, and as a patent holder, it is as good as impossible to find out if your patent is being breached.

Rico Brouwer
No. 3 on the Pirate Party of the Netherlands candidate list

Nuanced view
In my business, we requested and have been granted two patents for software. The first one was granted a few years ago and related to a solution providing personalised viewing advice for TV programmes. We were first on the market with this innovation, but in practice, it was difficult to protect. I remember our competitors being right there in the same room when one of my colleagues was promoting our innovation. I view it more like a compliment: no one can argue that we didn’t come up with this ourselves. Our second patent relates to a user-friendly digital TV guide that is a great alternative to the cumbersome and expensive GridView, especially for TV on mobile devices. This can be protected much more easily because everyone can see our solution, making it much easier for us to catch out any other parties using it.

Annelies Kaptein
Owner of Stoneroos (which specialises in software solutions for interactive TV)

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