Software is playing an increasingly important role in the cleantech sector. Companies are therefore keen to protect their innovative software solutions by means of a patent. But is this actually possible? And how exactly does this process work? Software protection requires specific expertise. That is why it is important to work with a patent attorney who has a knowledge of software and is familiar with your sector.
Can you patent cleantech software?
The patent system was created to protect technical inventions. These can range from everyday items such as nuts, bolts and screws to complex devices such as solar panels or fuel cells. But software is different, Patent Attorney Simon Van Mierlo explains.
"Software is unique because it is less tangible than the mechanical inventions for which the patent system was created. The European Patent Office has therefore ruled that computer programs are excluded from patents.
According to Simon, innovative software designs and software that is used to control groundbreaking technologies can nevertheless be patented in the same way as other inventions, provided they meet the novelty and inventive step requirements. The actual program code itself can only be protected by copyright, which is of course more limited.
"So a patent enables you to get broader protection for the idea behind the software or its design. To qualify, the software must either be used to control innovative technical processes or devices, or be innovative in the field of IT technology."
How do you apply for a patent for your cleantech software?
So although computer programs are often in something of a twilight zone, it is in fact possible to protect cleantech software with a patent. The way you do this is exactly the same as for other applications.
Thinking broadly for broad protection
However, you should pay extra attention to how the application is written especially because software is less tangible than other technical inventions. It is important to think carefully about how you want to protect your innovation and where it may be infringed. This could include the algorithm, the computer that performs the process and the storage medium on which the software code is kept. But the software may also consist of different modules on different servers that communicate with each other. Then again, if those servers are in different countries, the patent needs to be put together well to be able to stop infringement.
"Our rule of thumb is to think broadly for broad protection," Simon explains. "So creativity is important when applying for a patent on cleantech software. This is all the more so when we take into account the fact that, when writing, we constantly have to balance between maximising protection and ensuring replicability. In the case of software, this is challenging. For example, how do you describe an innovative form of artificial intelligence in a way that is replicable without disclosing the entire design?"
If you have developed an innovative piece of software for the cleantech sector and want to protect it with a patent you need to call in the help of a specialist who knows this sector well. Please feel free to contact us to schedule a free introductory meeting with your patent attorney.