Computer technology penetrates nearly all areas of our life, not only in business environments but also in daily surroundings. But a computer cannot operate without instructions. These instructions, so-called computer programs or software, may be incorporated in the computer or any other apparatus, but are often stored, reproduced and distributed on portable media such as CD-ROMs or transmitted on-line.
Once created, it is often possible to reproduce software easily at very low cost, and in unlimited quantities. Although copyright protection is available for “literal expressions” of software, it does not protect the “concept” behind the software, which often is a core part of its commercial value. Since such concepts frequently fulfil technical functions, such as controlling machines or processing data, the patent system is often available to protect software-related inventions that involve such technical functions.
Generally, several approaches have been taken in protecting software by means of patents. While some countries grant patents for all types of software, computer programs are expressly excluded from patentable subject matter in many countries. However, in many of those latter countries, computer programs are only not patentable “as such” thus making it possible to obtain patent protection for computer program-related inventions with a technical character.