Can You Patent an Algorithm? Eligibility & Strategies

June 27, 2023
# min read

Can you patent an algorithm? The subject of patenting algorithms has been discussed and analyzed by various stakeholders in R&D, product engineering, science, and IP. In this blog post, we will explore the complexities surrounding patented algorithms and their eligibility under United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) criteria.

We will delve into the practical application of abstract ideas, creativity in relation to natural phenomena, as well as real-world impact or utility when determining if an algorithm can be patented. Furthermore, we will discuss various strategies for protecting intellectual property rights related to “Can you patent an algorithm?”.

In addition to considering “Can you patent an algorithm”, copyrights play a significant role in safeguarding computer programs; hence we’ll compare these two forms of protection. Lastly, with artificial intelligence rapidly advancing technology globally and influencing algorithm development itself – including AI-generated inventions – it is crucial for industry professionals to stay informed about developments in this space.

Table of Contents

Can You Patent an Algorithm?

In the world of technology, algorithms are essential tools for software development. They are a set of instructions that a computer program follows to solve a problem or perform a task. 

But can you patent an algorithm? The answer is yes, but it must meet certain criteria set by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

can you patent an algorithm


Patent Eligibility Criteria for Algorithms

So how can you patent an algorithm? For an algorithm to be patentable, it must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a practical application.
  • Not be purely abstract or mathematical in nature.
  • Demonstrate real-world utility.
  • Be novel and non-obvious.

Practical Application of Abstract Ideas

The initial stage of deciding if an algorithm is suitable for patent protection involves evaluating whether it embodies a practical application of an abstract notion. This means that the algorithm should provide some tangible benefit or solve a specific problem rather than simply being a theoretical concept.

Creativity and Natural Phenomena

In addition to having practical applications, algorithms seeking patent protection must also demonstrate creativity that is not tied to natural phenomena. In other words, they cannot merely describe laws of nature or mathematical relationships but instead need to exhibit inventive concepts with unique features.

Real-World Impact or Utility

An essential aspect of patent eligibility criteria is demonstrating real-world impact or utility. To qualify for intellectual property rights, algorithms should have concrete uses outside their existence as mere mathematical formulas. For instance, AI systems applying machine learning may fulfill the requirements for patentability by enhancing decision-making in areas such as medicine, finance, and production.

Given the complexity of algorithm patents and USPTO criteria, it is important to build strong patent portfolios in order to protect intellectual property. To do so effectively, companies should work with experienced IP attorneys who can identify AI-related technologies and help them develop strategies for protecting their inventions.

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Intellectual Property Protection Strategies for Algorithms

Companies across various industries have been able to grow their intellectual property portfolios by protecting proprietary algorithms. Non-tech companies should identify potential AI-related technologies they use or develop, working towards building up a strong patent portfolio around these innovations with assistance from experienced IP attorneys.

Building Strong Patent Portfolios

To protect your organization’s patented algorithm and other software patents, it is crucial to create a comprehensive patent strategy that includes filing multiple patent applications. This approach ensures broad coverage of the invention while minimizing risks associated with competitors copying or reverse-engineering your technology. Additionally, having an extensive patent portfolio can help attract investors and establish market dominance in your industry.

Identifying AI-related Technologies in Non-Tech Companies

Non-tech companies may now leverage AI and machine learning algorithms to keep up with the changing technological landscape. Identifying such technologies early on can provide ample time for securing intellectual property rights through patents related to these innovations. Examples include logistics firms using route optimization algorithms or retailers employing customer behavior prediction models.

Working with Experienced IP Attorneys

  • Selecting specialized counsel: Engaging an attorney who specializes in software patents and has experience dealing with USPTO examination procedures is essential for navigating the complex world of algorithm protection.
  • Drafting clear claims: A well-drafted patent application with clear and concise claims is more likely to meet the patent eligibility criteria and withstand scrutiny during an examination.
  • Monitoring competitors: Keeping an eye on competitor activities, including their patent filings, can help you identify potential infringement risks or opportunities for licensing agreements.

Intellectual property protection strategies for algorithms are essential in today’s competitive landscape, and understanding the differences between patents and copyrights is key to protecting computer programs. With this knowledge, companies can develop a comprehensive strategy that will ensure their innovations remain secure.

Key Takeaway: 

Companies can protect their proprietary algorithms and AI-related technologies by building strong patent portfolios with the help of experienced IP attorneys. Non-tech companies should identify potential AI-related technologies they use or develop to secure intellectual property rights through patents related to these innovations. A proactive approach is necessary, including drafting clear claims, monitoring competitors’ activities, and engaging specialized counsel for navigating the complex world of algorithm protection.

Copyrights vs Patents for Computer Programs

Comparing copyrights and patents, it is essential to understand the differences between them when dealing with computer programs and algorithms in terms of intellectual property protection. While copyrights protect the expression of an idea in a tangible form, such as source code or object code, patents safeguard inventions that are novel, non-obvious, and have practical utility.

International Enforcement Efforts for Copyrights

The majority of countries recognize computer programs as copyrightable objects under their respective laws. This recognition simplifies international enforcement efforts regarding software development projects involving innovative algorithms or other forms of executable code used within different levels of technological sophistication across diverse sectors worldwide.

The WIPO gives advice on the enforcement of copyright protections around the globe through various accords, such as the Berne Convention and TRIPS Agreement.

Differences between Patents and Copyrights Protection

  • Nature: Copyrights protect creative expressions in fixed mediums while patents cover new inventions with practical applications.
  • Territoriality: Patent rights are territorial by nature; however, international agreements facilitate cross-border cooperation for enforcing copyright protections globally.
  • Lifespan: The duration of patent protection typically lasts up to 20 years from the filing date whereas copyrighted works enjoy longer terms depending on jurisdictional rules – usually the author’s life plus additional years after death (e.g., life +70 years).
  • Filing Process: A patent application requires detailed disclosure about the invention’s novelty aspects while registering a work under copyright law involves a simpler process without extensive examination.

Considering these differences, R&D managers and engineers should carefully evaluate the most suitable form of intellectual property protection for their computer programs and algorithms. For instance, while software patents may be appropriate for groundbreaking inventions with real-world applications, copyrights might suffice to protect proprietary code used in less technologically advanced projects.

When it comes to copyrights and patents for computer programs, the best approach is to remain informed of international enforcement efforts and differences between protections. As AI technology advances, understanding algorithm patenting developments becomes increasingly important in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Key Takeaway: 

The article discusses the differences between copyrights and patents for computer programs and algorithms. While copyrights protect the expression of an idea in a tangible form, patents safeguard inventions that are novel, non-obvious, and have practical utility. R&D managers should carefully evaluate which form of intellectual property protection is most suitable for their projects.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Algorithm Development

Staying up-to-date with algorithm patenting matters is essential for individuals involved in innovation efforts across various organizational levels, as artificial intelligence (AI) continues to drive significant progress in all industries globally. This knowledge will enable them to make informed decisions when protecting valuable IP assets.

AI’s Influence on Technology Advancements Globally

AI has transformed multiple industries including healthcare, finance, and manufacturing by automating tasks and optimizing decision-making. As a result, the demand for patented algorithms that power AI systems has increased significantly.

For instance, machine learning techniques like deep learning have led to breakthroughs in image recognition and natural language processing (NLP). Consequently, companies are keen on securing intellectual property rights over these innovative technologies.

Staying Informed About Algorithm Patenting Developments

  • R&D Managers: It is essential for R&D managers to keep track of recent patent applications filed by competitors or research institutions within their domain. This information can help them identify potential collaboration opportunities or areas where further research might be required.
  • Product Dev Engineers: By staying updated on relevant patents related to their field of expertise, product development engineers can ensure that they do not infringe upon existing intellectual property while designing new products or improving existing ones.
  • Sr Directors & VPs of Research & Innovation: Senior executives should be aware of the latest trends in algorithm patenting to make strategic decisions regarding their company’s research and development efforts, as well as potential partnerships or acquisitions.
  • Head of Research & Innovation: As a leader responsible for driving innovation within an organization, it is crucial to stay informed about changes in patent eligibility criteria that may impact the ability to protect valuable algorithms developed by your team.

AI has revolutionized the tech industry, driving ever-increasing levels of innovation through algorithm development. As such, it is important to stay informed about developments concerning the question “Can you patent an algorithm?” and debate over AI-generated inventions’ patentability status.

Key Takeaway: 

Artificial intelligence has led to breakthroughs in various sectors, resulting in an increased demand for patented algorithms that power AI systems. To safeguard valuable IP assets and maintain a competitive edge, stakeholders involved with innovation efforts must stay informed about developments related to algorithm patenting matters. This includes R&D managers, product development engineers, senior executives, and leaders responsible for driving innovation within an organization.

Debate Over AI-Generated Inventions’ Patentability Status

Can you patent an algorithm generated by AI?

The ongoing battle over whether AI-generated inventions should be patentable, such as the case involving Stephen Thaler and Andrei Iancu, has brought algorithm patents to the forefront. However, concerns about poor quality AI and machine learning patents granted in recent years due to uncertainties surrounding their patentability status fuel debates over whether mathematical formulas or abstract ideas should qualify for intellectual property protection.

Stephen Thaler vs. Andrei Iancu Case

In this landmark case, inventor Stephen Thaler argued that his artificial intelligence system, DABUS, should be recognized as the rightful inventor of two patented creations. The USPTO denied Thaler’s claims, citing that only humans are legally considered inventors in United States law.

Poor Quality AI and Machine Learning Patents

  • Lack of Clarity: Many recently granted software patents related to artificial intelligence lack clear descriptions or well-defined boundaries around their claimed inventions, making it difficult for other innovators to understand what is protected by a particular patent.
  • Rapidly Evolving Technology: As algorithms become more sophisticated through advances in machine learning techniques like deep neural networks, determining if an invention meets the novelty requirement becomes increasingly challenging for both applicants and examiners at the USPTO.
  • Inconsistent Examination Standards: Different patent offices around the world have varying guidelines for assessing patent eligibility criteria related to AI and machine learning inventions, leading to inconsistencies in granted patents.

The Debate on Protecting Mathematical Formulas Under IP Laws

Proponents of patented algorithms argue that they incentivize innovation by granting inventors exclusive rights to their creations. However, opponents contend that algorithms are essentially mathematical formulas or abstract ideas which should not be eligible for patent protection. The ongoing debate highlights the need for clearer guidance from lawmakers and regulators regarding the appropriate scope of intellectual property protections for AI-generated inventions.

Key Takeaway: 

The debate over whether AI-generated inventions should be patentable is ongoing, with concerns about poor-quality AI and machine learning patents granted in recent years. The Stephen Thaler vs Andrei Iancu case brought algorithm patents to the forefront, but there are still uncertainties surrounding their patentability status due to a lack of clarity, rapidly evolving technology, and inconsistent examination standards around the world. Proponents argue that patented algorithms incentivize innovation while opponents contend that they are essentially mathematical formulas or abstract ideas which should not be eligible for patent protection.


So, can you patent an algorithm?

Patenting an algorithm is possible, but it requires meeting certain criteria set by the USPTO including practical application of abstract ideas, creativity, natural phenomena, and real-world impact or utility. Building a strong patent portfolio, identifying AI-related technologies in non-tech companies, and working with experienced IP attorneys are some strategies for protecting patented algorithms. In addition to these considerations, staying informed about developments in algorithm patenting is crucial as technology advancements continue to be influenced by AI.

Protect your own algorithm through patents or other forms of IP rights management solutions like Cypris. Discover the power of Cypris and unlock your team’s potential. Our platform provides rapid time-to-insights, centralizing data sources for improved R&D and innovation team performance.

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