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Reviewed by Alec Griffiths, IP Manager | 1 February 2024.

Can you patent software in the UK?

Can you patent software in the UK?

The short answer is, yes you can get a UK patent for software. The long answer is more complicated.

How do you patent software?

You can indeed get a patent for software-related innovation at the UKIPO (United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office) and the EPO (European Patent Office). However, there are additional requirements your technology must meet in order to qualify.

In addition to the standard patent requirements of novelty, inventiveness and industrial application, your technology must also have a ‘technical effect’ as determined by the respective patent office to which you apply. Fortunately, the UKIPO and EPO are similarly aligned when it comes to their opinions on software-related innovation and the ‘technical effect’.

The issue, however, is that there is no formal definition of what constitutes a ‘technical effect’.

What qualifies software for a UK patent?

Whilst there is no formal definition, there are some areas in which the UKIPO and EPO are more likely to consider a ‘technical effect’ to be present within the innovation:

Software that relates to physical objects, such as:

  • industrial machinery
  • electric vehicles
  • handheld devices

Software that relates to computers, such as:

  • Computer hardware
  • Security – user authentication, encryption
  • Data handling – memory, reliability, speed
  • Output – image or video improvement

These example areas have been pulled together through collective experience of monitoring which patents receive granted status at the UKIPO and EPO. This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it mean that software in these fields will become granted.

Next steps

The topic of whether a specific software-related innovation can be patented at the UKIPO and/or EPO is a nuanced discussion. With no formal definition to work from, it often falls to a seasoned patent professional to review recent patent decisions made by patent offices in order to provide a more informed opinion on the current thinking surrounding the ‘technical effect’.

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