About Intellectual Property IP Training IP Outreach IP for… IP and... IP in... Patent & Technology Information Trademark Information Industrial Design Information Geographical Indication Information Plant Variety Information (UPOV) IP Laws, Treaties & Judgements IP Resources IP Reports Patent Protection Trademark Protection Industrial Design Protection Geographical Indication Protection Plant Variety Protection (UPOV) IP Dispute Resolution IP Office Business Solutions Paying for IP Services Negotiation & Decision-Making Development Cooperation Innovation Support Public-Private Partnerships The Organization Working with WIPO Accountability Patents Trademarks Industrial Designs Geographical Indications Copyright Trade Secrets WIPO Academy Workshops & Seminars World IP Day WIPO Magazine Raising Awareness Case Studies & Success Stories IP News WIPO Awards Business Universities Indigenous Peoples Judiciaries Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions Economics Gender Equality Global Health Climate Change Competition Policy Sustainable Development Goals Enforcement Frontier Technologies Mobile Applications Sports Tourism PATENTSCOPE Patent Analytics International Patent Classification ARDI – Research for Innovation ASPI – Specialized Patent Information Global Brand Database Madrid Monitor Article 6ter Express Database Nice Classification Vienna Classification Global Design Database International Designs Bulletin Hague Express Database Locarno Classification Lisbon Express Database Global Brand Database for GIs PLUTO Plant Variety Database GENIE Database WIPO-Administered Treaties WIPO Lex - IP Laws, Treaties & Judgments WIPO Standards IP Statistics WIPO Pearl (Terminology) WIPO Publications Country IP Profiles WIPO Knowledge Center WIPO Technology Trends Global Innovation Index World Intellectual Property Report PCT – The International Patent System ePCT Budapest – The International Microorganism Deposit System Madrid – The International Trademark System eMadrid eMadrid Reference Article 6ter (armorial bearings, flags, state emblems) Hague – The International Design System eHague Lisbon – The International System of Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications eLisbon UPOV PRISMA Mediation Arbitration Expert Determination Domain Name Disputes Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) Digital Access Service (DAS) WIPO Pay Current Account at WIPO WIPO Assemblies Standing Committees Calendar of Meetings WIPO Official Documents Development Agenda Technical Assistance IP Training Institutions COVID-19 Support National IP Strategies Policy & Legislative Advice Cooperation Hub Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISC) Technology Transfer Inventor Assistance Program WIPO GREEN WIPO's Pat-INFORMED Accessible Books Consortium WIPO for Creators WIPO ALERT Member States Observers Director General Activities by Unit External Offices Job Vacancies Procurement Results & Budget Financial Reporting Oversight

Computer programs and business models

Computer technology penetrates nearly all areas of our life, not only in business environments but also in daily surroundings.  A computer cannot operate without instructions.  These instructions, so-called computer programs or software, may be incorporated in the computer or any other apparatus, but are often stored, reproduced and distributed on portable media such as CD-ROMs or transmitted on-line.

Once created, it is often possible to reproduce software easily at very low cost in an unlimited number.  Although copyright protection is available for “literal expressions” of software, it does not protect the “concept” behind the software, which often is a core part of its commercial value.  Since such concepts behind the software often provide technical functions, such as controlling machines or processing data, protection of software through the patent system is often available to protect such technical functions.

Generally, several approaches have been taken in protecting software by patents.  While some countries grant patents for all types of software, in many countries, in addition to, inter alia, the schemes, rules and methods of performing mental acts, scientific and mathematical theories, the computer programs are expressly excluded from patentable subject matter. However, in many of those latter countries, the computer programs are only not patentable “as such” thus making it possible to obtain patent protection for computer-related inventions having a technical character.  As reasons for excluding software from patent protection, it is often said that innovation in this field typically involves cumulative, sequential development and re-use of others' work, and that the need to preserve interoperability between programs, systems and network components does not fit with the mechanisms of the patent system because the range of options available to the second comer may be constrained. On the other hand, some argue that patent protection of computer software is necessary in order to provide adequate incentive for investment in this field and to support innovation in various technological areas which increasingly develop together with computer technology.

In recent years, another similar issue arose, namely the question of the patentability of business methods.  Traditionally, business methods have been either in the public domain or protected under trade secret law.  Today, however, information technology offers possibilities for new business models, using information technology as a tool for processing and transmitting various data, such as technical, commercial and financial data.  Due to high economic stakes put on those new business methods and the expansion of e-commerce in our society, the debate on the feasibility of patenting business methods has continued at various fora.

Related Sites and documents

The inclusion of a link to a site does not imply the agreement of WIPO, its Member States or the International Bureau with any of the views expressed on the site.

World Intellectual Property Organization

Other Intergovernmental Organizations

National/Regional Patent Offices

  • European Patent Office
Third third