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Patenting computer-implemented inventions (software patents)

The law does not allow patents to be granted for some types of innovation. Some computer-implemented inventions are patentable whilst others are not. This is because software straddles the technological and business worlds. It uses technology, that is, computers, but often for non-technical purposes. Whether a computer-implemented invention is patentable depends on the contribution the invention makes. For example, if it provides improved control of a car braking system, it is likely to be patentable, but if it merely provides an improved accounting system, it is probably not patentable.

There is extensive case law about computer-implemented inventions. The Intellectual Property Office is bound by these cases in its own decision making. The Intellectual Property Office practice is based on a Court of Appeal judgment (Aerotel/Macrossan) in 2006 which lays down the basic test to be applied.

The law on what is patentable is the same across Europe, so if something is unpatentable under UK law, it will generally also be unpatentable elsewhere in Europe, although individual countries may has slightly varying interpretations of the law. The same does not apply to countries outside Europe. In the US and Japan, the laws allow a wider range of computer-implemented inventions to be patented.