An Overview of Software Patenting

The concept of “intellectual property” in India over the last few years has taken on some epic proportions for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons, attributable to the growing awareness among the urban Indian population, is of the significance and, more importantly, the commercial benefits in protecting its intellectual property rights both within and outside India. And under traditional principles of intellectual property protection, patent law is to encourage scientific research, new technology and industrial progress. The fundamental principle of patent law is that the patent is granted only for an invention i.e. new and useful the said invention must have novelty and utility. The grant of patent thus becomes of industrial property and also called an intellectual property. And the computer software is a relatively new recipient of patent protection.

The term “Patent” has its origin from the term “Letter Patent”. This expression ‘Letter Patent’ meant open letter and were instruments under the Great Seal of King of England addressed by the Crown to all the subjects at large in which the Crown conferred certain rights and privileges on one or more individuals in the kingdom. It was in the later part of the 19th century new inventions in the field of art, process, method or manner of manufacture, machinery and other substances produced by manufacturers were on increased and the inventors became very much interested that the inventions done by them should not be infringed by any one else by copying them or by adopting the methods used by them. To save the interests of inventors, the then British rulers enacted the Indian Patents and Design Act, 1911.

With respect to patentability of software -related inventions, it is currently one of the most heated areas of debate. Software has become patentable in recent years in most jurisdictions (although with restrictions in certain countries, notably those signatories of the European Patent Convention or EPC) and the number of software patents has risen rapidly.

MEANING OF SOFTWARE PATENTING

The term “software” does not have a precise definition and even the software industries fails to give an specific definition. But it is basically used to describe all of the different types of computer programs. Computer programs are basically divided into “application programs” and “operating system programs”. Application programs are designed to do specific tasks to be executed through the computer and the operating system programs are used to manage the internal functions of the computer to facilitate use of application program.

Though the term ‘Software patent’ does not have a universally accepted definition. One definition suggested by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure is that a software patent is a “patent on any performance of a computer realized by means of a computer program”.

According to Richard Stallman, the co-developer of the GNU-Linux operating system and proponent of Free Software says, “Software patents are patents which cover software ideas, ideas which you would use in developing software.

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