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Revised Guidelines expand patent protection for software and business methods

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China’s State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) today implemented revised Guidelines for Patent Examination that significantly expand patent protection for software and business methods / models.

WebJD Business Methods

Software patent protection

Software patent applicants will now be able to claim a medium plus computer program process, instead of claiming means plus function (a term which has historically been construed narrowly by SIPO examiners). Previously-ineligible claims directed at “a computer program product” or “a machine-readable medium” will now be eligible for patent protection in China.

Business method patent protection

Business method patent claims that include a technical feature in addition to business rules or methods will now be eligible for patent protection in China under the new Guidelines for Patent Examination. Not all types of business methods are currently eligible, but SIPO examiner rejections for business method patent applications will now more likely focus on lack of novelty or inventive step, rather than outright rejection based on ineligible subject matter.

Contrast with United States law

Given the general trends in the United States towards lower patentability for software and business method inventions (see, e.g., recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in In re Bilski and Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, the reverse trends in China are somewhat surprising to see. Inventors and multinational corporations should certainly reconsider China when prioritizing their international patent filing strategies.

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