Business Method and Computer Software Patents
Today, there are an increasing number of software and business methods which are protected by patents in the United States (http://www.uspto.gov/web/menu/pbmethod/). In Japan, computer programs and business methods are patentable provided that they are considered to be technical instead of merely abstract ideas (see web site of the Japanese Patent Office http://www.jpo.go.jp/infoe/tt1211-055.htm). Under the European Patent Convention and the patent laws of a number of countries members of the European Patent Organisation, computer programs and business methods as such are still expressly excluded from patent protection. In practice, however, the approach has changed in recent years as the result of long-lasting intensive and controversial discussions and many decisions. The vast majority of applications are today considered not to claim abstract programs or business methods but to describe technical means like, for example, computer networks, for carrying out these programs or methods. In order to be inventive, the programs or methods have to overcome a technical problem in a non-obvious way; in other words, it is not the commercial ingenuity which makes them patentable (see EPO web site at http://www.european-patent-office.org/news/pressrel/2000_08_18_e.htm and http://www.european-patent-office.org/epo/pubs/oj000/7_00/7_3070.pdf. In a number of other countries, computer programs and business methods are not yet patentable.
Some examples of business methods are: patents on using a single click to order goods in an on-line transaction, on an on-line system of accounting, and on-line rewards incentive system. Much has been written about business methods patents. In most countries, patents are available for a wide range of inventions. In E-Commerce business, it is prudent to get legal advice about whether any new business methods developed by your company may be patentable.
See: "Your Software and How to Protect it" (European Commission) ftp://ftp.cordis.lu/pub/innovation-smes/docs/brochure_ipr_software_protection_en.pdf