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How to treat software in the intellectual property framework

Westermann, Hannes LU (2016) LAGF03 20161
Department of Law
Faculty of Law
Abstract
The software industry is today one of the most important industries, and almost all devices we use contain some piece of software. As software has both a literal expression and an inventive aspect, it has been unclear which way the intellectual property should be protected. Software can be covered both by patents, that protect the idea behind the code, and copyright, that protects the expression of this idea.

A copyrighted program can be examined and the ideas can be reimplemented in a competitors own “words”, thereby circumventing the copyright restriction. Therefore, many have argued for the use of patents. Patents grant an exclusive right to the inventor to use the invention for 20 years, if certain conditions are met (utility,... (More)
The software industry is today one of the most important industries, and almost all devices we use contain some piece of software. As software has both a literal expression and an inventive aspect, it has been unclear which way the intellectual property should be protected. Software can be covered both by patents, that protect the idea behind the code, and copyright, that protects the expression of this idea.

A copyrighted program can be examined and the ideas can be reimplemented in a competitors own “words”, thereby circumventing the copyright restriction. Therefore, many have argued for the use of patents. Patents grant an exclusive right to the inventor to use the invention for 20 years, if certain conditions are met (utility, novelty, inventive step). This gives the inventor a head start in commercializing his invention and hopefully allows him to recoup the investment costs. The patent also acts as a knowledge dissemination tool. After the patent has been granted, the claim describing precisely how to implement the invention is made public. However, patents carry the risk of impeding innovation in the industry by granting a too large monopoly to one entity, preventing competition and continued development in that area.

In the United States, patent protection of software has gone through several periods. In the 70s and 80s, three cases established a very narrow patent eligibility of software. It was only patentable together with a specific machine or a process that transformed matter into another form. In the 90s, case law opened for the patenting of basically all software, as long as it was useful. This led to the granting of hundreds of thousands of software patents. Recently, courts have gone back to not treating software as an invention, only allowing patenting if the implementation is inventive.

The view how to treat software in legal doctrine is very varied. Some argue that software is fundamentally different from hardware and should therefore not be patent eligible. They also argue that software patents have harmed the software industry. Others argue that software should be patent eligible in order to increase research and innovation. Yet others argue that a new kind of protection should be introduced for software.

I find that software is not fundamentally different from other inventions, and that it should therefore be patent eligible, as long as it meets the requirements for patentability. Many of the court cases should have been decided by applying these criteria instead of excluding software as such. The problems in practice also seem to stem from a misapplication of the inventive step and novelty tests.

However, the patent term should be decreased for software patents. The current term reflects an innovation pace unsuitable for the software industry. This would solve many of the practical problems of software patenting. (Less)
Popular Abstract (Swedish)
Mjukvaruindustrin är idag en av de viktigaste industrierna i världen, och flerparten av de apparater vi använder innehåller mjukvara. Eftersom mjukvara har både en litterär del och en uppfinningsrik del har det varit oklart hur mjukvara ska skyddas. Den kan skyddas av patent, som täcker idén bakom programmet, och upphovsrätt, som täcker uttrycket av idén.

Ett program endast skyddat av upphovsrätt kan undersökas och idéerna sedan återskapas med ”andra ord” av en konkurrent. Därmed kringgås upphovsrätten. Därför har många argumenterat för att använda patent på mjukvara. Patent ger en exklusiv rätt för uppfinnaren att använda en uppfinning så länge den uppfyller vissa krav (användbarhet, nyhet, uppfinningshöjd). Detta ger uppfinnaren ett... (More)
Mjukvaruindustrin är idag en av de viktigaste industrierna i världen, och flerparten av de apparater vi använder innehåller mjukvara. Eftersom mjukvara har både en litterär del och en uppfinningsrik del har det varit oklart hur mjukvara ska skyddas. Den kan skyddas av patent, som täcker idén bakom programmet, och upphovsrätt, som täcker uttrycket av idén.

Ett program endast skyddat av upphovsrätt kan undersökas och idéerna sedan återskapas med ”andra ord” av en konkurrent. Därmed kringgås upphovsrätten. Därför har många argumenterat för att använda patent på mjukvara. Patent ger en exklusiv rätt för uppfinnaren att använda en uppfinning så länge den uppfyller vissa krav (användbarhet, nyhet, uppfinningshöjd). Detta ger uppfinnaren ett försprång i kommersialiseringen av uppfinningen och en möjlighet att återvinna investeringar. Patentet fungerar även som ett sätt att sprida information. Efter att patentet meddelas blir informationen om hur man implementerar uppfinningen offentlig. Patent löper dock även risken att hindra innovation genom att ge ett för stort monopol till en enhet, vilket hindrar konkurrens och vidareutveckling i ett visst område.

I USA har patentskydd av mjukvara genomgått ett flertal perioder. På 70- och 80-talet etablerade tre rättsfall en mycket snäv patenterbarhet av mjukvara. Den var endast möjlig att patentera tillsammans med en viss apparat eller en process som förändrar materia. På 90-talet öppnades möjligheten för patentering av nästan all mjukvara, så länge den är användbar. Detta ledde till meddelandet av hundratusentals patent på mjukvara. På den senaste tiden verkar domstolen ha gått tillbaka till att behandla mjukvara som icke-patenterbar och istället bedöma om implementeringen är uppfinningsrik.

Åsikterna i doktrinen är väldigt varierad. Vissa argumenterar för att mjukvara är fundamentalt annorlunda från andra uppfinningar och därför inte bör kunna patenteras. De anser även att mjukvarupatent har skadat industrin. Andra anser att mjukvara borde vara patenterbart för att öka forskning och innovation. Andra anser att ett helt nytt skydd borde införas för mjukvara.

Jag anser inte att mjukvara är fundamentalt olikt från andra uppfinningar och att den därför borde vara patenterbar, om den uppfyller de andra kraven för patenterbarhet. Många av rättsfallen borde ha avgjorts med användningen av dessa krav istället för att utesluta mjukvaran. De praktiska problemen med mjukvarupatent verkar komma från felanvändningen av kraven för nyhet och uppfinningshöjd.

Längden för patent på mjukvara borde dock förkortas. Den nuvarande längden på 20 år reflekterar en innovationshastighet som är opassande för mjukvarubranschen. Detta skulle lösa många av de praktiska problemen. (Less)
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author
Westermann, Hannes LU
supervisor
organization
course
LAGF03 20161
year
type
M2 - Bachelor Degree
subject
keywords
immaterialrätt, IT-rätt, patent, software, sui generis, intellecutal property law, IT-law
language
English
id
8874398
date added to LUP
2016-07-04 11:51:22
date last changed
2016-07-04 11:51:22
@misc{8874398,
  abstract     = {The software industry is today one of the most important industries, and almost all devices we use contain some piece of software. As software has both a literal expression and an inventive aspect, it has been unclear which way the intellectual property should be protected. Software can be covered both by patents, that protect the idea behind the code, and copyright, that protects the expression of this idea. 

A copyrighted program can be examined and the ideas can be reimplemented in a competitors own “words”, thereby circumventing the copyright restriction. Therefore, many have argued for the use of patents. Patents grant an exclusive right to the inventor to use the invention for 20 years, if certain conditions are met (utility, novelty, inventive step). This gives the inventor a head start in commercializing his invention and hopefully allows him to recoup the investment costs. The patent also acts as a knowledge dissemination tool. After the patent has been granted, the claim describing precisely how to implement the invention is made public. However, patents carry the risk of impeding innovation in the industry by granting a too large monopoly to one entity, preventing competition and continued development in that area.

In the United States, patent protection of software has gone through several periods. In the 70s and 80s, three cases established a very narrow patent eligibility of software. It was only patentable together with a specific machine or a process that transformed matter into another form. In the 90s, case law opened for the patenting of basically all software, as long as it was useful. This led to the granting of hundreds of thousands of software patents. Recently, courts have gone back to not treating software as an invention, only allowing patenting if the implementation is inventive.

The view how to treat software in legal doctrine is very varied. Some argue that software is fundamentally different from hardware and should therefore not be patent eligible. They also argue that software patents have harmed the software industry. Others argue that software should be patent eligible in order to increase research and innovation. Yet others argue that a new kind of protection should be introduced for software.

I find that software is not fundamentally different from other inventions, and that it should therefore be patent eligible, as long as it meets the requirements for patentability. Many of the court cases should have been decided by applying these criteria instead of excluding software as such. The problems in practice also seem to stem from a misapplication of the inventive step and novelty tests.

However, the patent term should be decreased for software patents. The current term reflects an innovation pace unsuitable for the software industry. This would solve many of the practical problems of software patenting.},
  author       = {Westermann, Hannes},
  keyword      = {immaterialrätt,IT-rätt,patent,software,sui generis,intellecutal property law,IT-law},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {How to treat software in the intellectual property framework},
  year         = {2016},
}