Posts Tagged ‘why file’

Can I patent my software?

Posted on July 16, 2011 by

CrossroadsCan I patent software and business methods? This is the first question most clients have, and one of the most common questions I get. But the real question is should you patent your software and business methods?

From a legal perspective, we need to look at two requirements in particular: novelty and obviousness. Regarding novelty, you can usually find a way to write up the invention so that it’s novel – you can add a requirement that it be coded a certain way, or that you take a particular step that is unique to you and you alone (“and then a widget powered by purple hamsters running clockwise does the inventive thing”). But then your competitors will have an easy way to avoid infringing your patent (Use blue hamsters! Or have them run counterclockwise! Or leave them out altogether!). So you and your lawyer need to be able to resolve the tension between ‘broad enough that you’ll be able to cover work-arounds’ and ‘narrow enough for the Patent Office to find the invention patentable.’

Next, you need to address obviousness, which is a big issue for software and business method applications. Why wouldn’t one of your peers be able to easily figure out how to make your invention? Why hasn’t anyone does this already? For a more detailed discussion on obviousness, see this post.
If you and your lawyer can identify solid arguments to overcome novelty and obviousness issues, then you should consider filing the application. If not, you may want to reconsider using patents to protect that feature.

Then there are a number of business questions to consider: Is it worth your time and money to go through the process? What will your business gain from developing patent properties? How will you benefit from this investment in the years before the patent application is approved and a patent issues? For a detailed discussion of some of the biggest business reasons to file a patent, see this post.

If you and your attorney have identified the aspects of your technology that satisfy the novelty and obviousness requirements and you’ve made the business decision that your company will benefit from an application, then, yes, you can file a patent application.


P.S. No hamsters, purple or otherwise, were harmed in the writing of this post!


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What is a “continuing” app? Why file one?

Chess pieces Once you have filed a first non-provisional patent application and until that first application issues or is abandoned, you can file additional applications “related” to that first one. No matter when you actually file one of these “continuing” applications, everyone will treat the application as if you filed it on the same day as the very first application. The downside is that these applications have short life spans because they also expire at the same time as that first application. So why file one?

Smart use of continuations can save a company money. For example, you might file an extremely detailed first application that would support claims to a number of different aspects of your invention. You might choose to file the application with a small subset of the claims – perhaps the ones most relevant to your company at the time of filing – and then you only have to pay for the PTO to examine that focused subset of claims (and for you/your lawyer to respond to the PTO’s initial rejections). Once you get a patent allowed you’re 4-7 years out from time of filing and in a different place as a company, both from a funding perspective and from a business perspective. Maybe you’ve long since moved on to another venture – no need to have spent money on those other aspects of the invention. Or maybe the focus of your company has changed to one of those other aspects and you’re thrilled that you can now protect the methods / products that have become relevant to your business. Either way, you’ve bought yourself the time you need to make more informed decisions.

Additionally, filing continuations can be useful when licensing the technology. If you have continuations that are each directed to different aspects or implementations of the invention, you have much more granular control over what rights you license out. Say you have a patent that supports X, Y, and Z, where Z is the least relevant to your business model. You may want to license out Z to a company that is going to be able to use Z and send you substantial royalty fees – but you may not want to enable them to compete with you in areas X and Y. Continuations can help you do that.

Top Three Reasons to File a Patent

Keyboard button with the word "learn" on itThere are typically three good reasons to apply for a patent: 1) you want to signal to potential investors/partners that you are serious about your efforts and have something unique enough to protect via patent; 2) your business model depends on licensing technology, know-how and IP; and 3) you will need defensive patents to even the playing field against your competitors. Before filing for a patent, you should consider each of these in determining what you intend to do with the patent application now and in the future.
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