SPECIAL NOTE: The law regarding Internet Business & Business Plan Patents is currently in great flux. The following article was written years ago, when many Internet Business & Business Plan Patents were being granted. Please read only for historical significance.
As the Internet became more mainstream in the 1990’s, businesses were launched to harness the sheer numbers of user-queries each second. The idea was to make money by serving as a portal from which Internet users searched for information. While some of the earliest leaders – such as Yahoo – still exist, many of the most notable search engines have faded in popularity. For any business, the question is always how to stay ahead of the competition. For some businesses, convincing the government to grant you a “so-called monopoly” is the key to longevity and success. Quite simply, getting a patent can make your business stronger because the patent keeps the competition away. A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention.
One of the highest regarded search engines, Google, is quite adept at filing patents to maintain its control and premier position ahead of the competition. For example, U.S. Patent Number 6526440 is directed to a method of identifying documents relevant to a search query. As described in the patent,
The method includes generating an initial set of relevant documents from a corpus based on a matching of terms in a search query to the corpus. Further, the method ranks the generated set of documents to obtain a relevance score for each document and calculates a local score value for the documents in the generated set, the local score value quantifying an amount that the documents are referenced by other documents in the generated set of documents. Finally, the method refines the relevance scores for the documents in the generated set based on the local score values.”
In other words, Google has a business method patent for establishing 1) which documents, 2) the ranks of those documents and 3) the generated set of those documents to be associated with a particular search query.
Because Google holds this patent, its competitors must stay away from its unique way of ranking web sites. Obviously, Google revealed some of its business practices in exchange for a 20-year patent – essentially a “so-called permitted government monopoly.”
What separates you from your competitors? Why should anyone choose you over your rival? Pricing, service, longevity, are all considerations; but imagine if you could obtain a monopoly in the field. With a patent monopoly, clients are forced to come to you because you are the only source providing a particular product or service for 20 years. The power of the business method patent makes all this possible.
Traditionally, patents are thought to create monopolies for only products or processes, such as an engine for a method of refining petroleum. In 1998, the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit ruled that methods of doing business are patentable. While there are some who believe that business method patents must be tied to computers or other technology, there are others that believe that business method patents can be completely devoid of technology.
The first step in obtaining a business method patent is to make sure that you have a business method that solves a problem and/or achieves a goal. For example, if you recognize that your clients are always asking for something that no one can provide, and you figure out a way to provide what they are looking for, then you should attempt to obtain a patent. To obtain that type of patent requires that you first explain the problem or the need that exists. Next you describe the specific solutions or efforts attempted to solve that problem or achieve that goal, and point out why those solutions or efforts have all fallen short. Lastly, you detail exactly how you have solved the problem or achieved the goal.
When filed, business method patents are typically assigned to an area of the Patent Office that is specifically trained to review and grant registration. Thus, for those of you who are more experienced with the patent process, it is not necessary to be concerned that the Patent Office won’t consider your methods patent because it is not a “typical”patent.
Some believe the Patent Office has been too lenient in granting patents, especially business method patents, and some even question the enforceability of a business method patent. While it is true that an overabundance of business method patent applications have overwhelmed the Patent Office, these filings are not subject to a cursory review. Now a special second level of review occurs prior to granting registration of these patents.. Thus, unlike the patent application review process to which electrophoresis techniques and the better mousetraps are subjected , the process for granting business method patents can be viewed as not less, but more thorough.
Prior to preparing and filing a business method patent, it is advisable, but not necessary, to conduct a patent search to ascertain whether your concept is unique in comparison to other filed patent applications, granted patents, or any other evidence of ideas. Assuming your concept appears unique after the patent search, it is advisable to file a patent application as soon as possible to obtain patent-pending status. Although many foreign countries do not yet recognize business method patents, filing a patent application before you use or make your business method public is crucial to protect any current or future foreign patent rights.
Therefore, in order to stay ahead of your competition, if you have a specific idea which helps to solve a problem or attain a goal, we strongly encourage you to consider a business method patent.