Patents for computer-related inventions
In Australia there are three main forms of official protection for computer-related intellectual property:
These three forms offer different forms of protection.
Circuit layout rights protect the appearance (design and layout) of an electronic circuit. Copyright protects the code of a computer program from being copied. A patent protects the way the program makes a computer work.
With patent protection, any program, subsequently developed, that makes the computer work in the same way will be considered neither new nor inventive even if the program/code is different.
Patents offer a stronger form of protection for software.
In general, a patent may be granted for an innovative, practical solution to a technological problem.
In this context, patents for computer-related inventions are no different from any other form of invention.
Patent protection - software
Australian patent law enables a diverse range of software to gain patent protection.
You should seek professional advice on whether your particular software falls within the definition of what may be patented.
Software inventions must be industrially applied. Software that is merely a procedure for solving a given type of mathematical problem is not patentable.
Similarly mathematical algorithms and abstract intellectual concepts on their own, are not patentable.
Patent protection - hardware
Physical devices that work in an improved way over previously known devices are patentable.
This includes complete computer systems or computer components such as disk drives, memory chips, bus architectures and monitors. Accessories for computers such as a floppy disk with an improved construction are suitable for patenting.
A disk that has an improved format or layout of data may be patentable if that format results in an improved working of the disk, such as increasing the amount of data storage, allowing faster access to data or reducing errors.
A floppy disk that differs from known disks only in the information stored on the disk is not patentable.
Computer-related technology has many unprecedented developments. There may be many patentable inventions not covered by the above examples. An IP professional can provide more detailed and specific information about patenting computer-related inventions.
In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 automatically copyrights source code, executable code and data banks and tables. There is no need for observing any formality such as registration however:
- not all foreign countries recognise copyright in codes, or data banks or tables; and
- some foreign countries may require some formalities to be met.
If you wish to ensure overseas copyright in a computer program, or data bank or table, you should consult a patent attorney or a legal practitioner before you publish your work anywhere in the world.
Copyright only protects the specific code of a computer program. It does not protect the ideas or method that might be embodied in the specific program.
Once those methods are known, a competent programmer would be able to write a 'new' program that could perform those methods without infringing copyright on any pre-existing computer program.
The Attorney-General's Department administers copyright legislation.
Circuit layout rights
In Australia, the Circuit Layouts Act 1989 automatically protects the layout of an integrated circuit (IC). This Act defines a circuit layout as the three-dimensional location of the active and passive elements and interconnections making up an integrated circuit.
The design or layout of a circuit is generally not patentable, although the situation in overseas countries may be different. If you want protection for an IC layout overseas, you should consult an IP professional for up-to-date information. The Attorney-General's Department administers the legislation on circuit layout rights.
Get professional advice
For specific assistance, advice as to appropriate forms of protection, and whether patent protection is appropriate in your circumstances, you can contact an IP professional.
Last Updated: 06/12/2012