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Blog | When to opt for a patent on a process? | EP&C Patent Attorneys

17-11-keuze-werkwijze-1Patent on a process instead of an invention. When? In our BL&Gs we generally talk about how to obtain a patent on a physical product. However, it is also possible to protect a process. How?

Protection of a process

It is possible to protect a particular process with a patent as long as it involves one or more steps, at least one of which is technical in nature.

This could be a car engine, for example, which is equipped with a board computer that responds to certain measurement data. The board computer completes the following steps:

  • Reads the temperature in a specific part of the engine,
  • Compares the temperature reading with the desired temperature, and
  • Controls the engine on the basis of the temperature comparison.

It is not the product - the board computer - that is innovative, but the smart steps the board computer completes. In cases like this it is important to protect the process rather than the product.

When do I opt for a patent on a process instead of a product?

  1. When an existing product - such as the familiar board computer - is used for a new application. 
  1. When a certain process can be carried out with the aid of various different machines. To avoid a situation in which you have to patent all the individual machines, it can be advisable to protect the process. This will enable you to take steps against your competitor if he uses your process. In that case it will not make any difference which machine he uses. 

What are the benefits of a patent on a process?

All products that can be obtained as a direct result of using your process are protected by the patent. It goes without saying that it is important for you to be able to demonstrate that the product was actually made using the protected process.

When do you NOT opt to patent the process?

If it is impossible to tell from the end product how it was made, it is more advisable not to disclose the process. There are two reasons for this:

  1. By keeping it a closely guarded secret your invention is going to be yours forever. The recipe used to make Coca-Cola is a good example of this. If they had patented it, every soft drink manufacturer would have been able to copy it after 20 years. Even though it is now possible to establish what ingredients are used in Coca-Cola by means of all kinds of tests, nobody has been able to reproduce that typical Coca-Cola taste. This means that the process used to make Coca-Cola probably makes all the difference. 
  1. If you cannot tell from the end product if it was made according to your patented process, it is going to be difficult to establish infringements. After all, the product could also have been made using a different process, which leads to the same result, but which you have not protected.

What can you not protect with a patent application on a process?

So-called 'business models' that do not involve any technical steps. Such as selling airline tickets online via an auction, which involves the following steps:

  • Offering a specific airline ticket to several clients,
  • Letting customers place bids,
  • Selecting the highest bid, and
  • Allocating the airline ticket to the customer who placed the highest bid.

What is lacking here is the 'technical aspect'. This is more like a smart way of selling airline tickets at the highest possible price.