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What are software patents?

Patents granted to software programming techniques and computer-implemented inventions are generally grouped under the term software patents. They include features of an invention that may be implemented, partly or wholly, by software. Additionally, the patent could cover supplementary hardware implementations of the invention. The USPTO’s grant of software patents is nothing short of an American Phenomenon that saw the numbers skyrocket from about 1000 per year (or 2% of all US patents granted) in the ‘80s, through 5000 in the early ‘90s to a staggering 25,000 in 2002 (or 15% of all patents). 


The rationale for grant of software patents has been meriting active debate as to the extent of applicability and pertinence to original patent principles, purposes and scope. The justification generally proffered by the official machinery consisting of patent offices and patentee companies is that patents protect precious capital investments and help ensure ROI, and also that they encourage more investment in R&D for innovation.

Many see this rationalization as masked pretext for commercial interests, brazen or discreet. It appears that the entire US patenting system, and the grant of software patents in particular, have undergone a runaway expansion accompanied by major changes in standards of patent-worthiness.

Examples of software patents

The famous case of Diamond Vs Diehr (1981) is said to be the first instance when a computer program-related invention was acknowledged as patent-worthy. The invention related to the molding of rubber, the timing for which was controlled through a software code. A descriptive list of notable software patents can be seen at “List of Software Patents – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia