FOR IP PROFESSIONALS

Patents for business methods

What is a patentable business method?

A patent may be granted for a business method where the method directly involves a physical form or device to bring about a 'useful product'. That is, the application of technology for automation of a business method (e.g. computerised accounting, monitoring, reporting or analysis systems) must be directly involved with the creation of the 'useful product' in a substantial, rather than incidental, way.

There should also be sufficient detail given in the description about the specific operation of the system or process to implement the method.

Most importantly any such business method must also be new and inventive.

If your invention meets these criteria, speak to a patent attorney and consider seeking patent protection.

What is a non-patentable business method?

A scheme or plan (including a business scheme or method), by itself, is not suitable for a patent. For instance, a method of raising funds by seeking sponsors to donate products, and conducting a raffle of those products, cannot be patented. This is because it does not specifically involve any artificial application to implement the scheme.

Importantly, the mere presence of science or technology (for example a computer) in a claimed invention is not sufficient to be patentable. The computer must be directly involved in the creation of the useful product. It is not enough for the computer to simply carry out the steps of a business scheme or plan. 

A business scheme that results in a written contract reflecting obligations of certain parties will not become patentable subject matter simply because a physical transformation occurs when the contract is documented using paper and ink.

Similarly, a change in the memory state of a computer used to generate, store or transmit the contract, or the use of email to communicate it, is unlikely to alter the fundamental characteristics of the method.  These things would not make the method patentable.

Further information including some examples and recent Office decisions can be found in the following sections of the Patent Examiners Manual:

Last Updated: 27/5/2013

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