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Can software be patented?

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The European parliament's rejection of the software patents directive is welcome news to independent contractors. Its stated aims were to harmonise the patenting of hi-tech inventions across the EU and in so doing to define the boundary between software and inventions that happen to have a non-fundamental software element, leaving the former unpatentable. The context for the project involved a trend in the European Patent Office to categorise software as an invention and grant patents for it; software becoming openly patentable in the USA in the mid-90s; and the European Patent Convention and World Trade Organisation's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement explicitly stating that software, business methods and works of literature should be protected by copyright, not by patents. While they are certainly persuasive if not subjected to technical scrutiny, these arguments are clearly not all mutually compatible. There was much controversy over exactly what each version of the directive would do. Those in favour argued both that software patents were desirable and, somewhat confusingly, that they would not be introduced.

Published in:

Computing & Control Engineering Journal  (Volume:16 ,  Issue: 4 )