Can a website be patented?

Can a website be patented

A website is an essential asset to any form of business today as it forms a part of the business identity. However, it is possible that someone else would want to exploit this asset and reap benefits from it. Is the protection of patent available for website? Read ahead to find out.

Protection of websites

A website can be seen as a collection of webpages comprising of a wide variety of information such as text, media files, sometimes even software. The domain name of the website may be protected by Trade Mark laws, whereas the contents of the website- the text, artwork, photographs, audio-visual content etc. enjoy the protection under Copyright laws if you are the first and original creator of these components. In some case, however, if the functioning of the website involved complex processes and an inventive step, it might be protected through patents too.

Requirements for patentability

India- To register a patent and thereby enjoy protection against infringement in India, a product or a process must have an ‘inventive step’, should be capable of industrial application and should not fall within the categories that are explicitly defined as ‘not inventions’.

United States- The US Patent law requires the fulfilment of 3 criteria for the acceptance of a patent application- Utility, novelty and non-obviousness.

European Union and United Kingdom- On the same lines of requirement as in India and the U.S., the requirements for patentability are- Novelty, inventive step, industrial application.

Does this mean websites can be patented?

Theoretically, if the websites or any of their features, demonstrate the above-mentioned criteria, the patent for a website should be granted. Some websites have a comprehensive functionality, involving more than a collection of webpages such as search engines or e-commerce websites. The functions of ranking, suggestions based on user data, sorting of lists by their features, integrating various data on checkout, all represent utility models as these are processes and not mere expression of ideas.

However, there are multiple points on which this could be objected and defending of the patentability can be complicated.

Some well-known patented websites

The Google’s search engine was provisionally filed in 1997 and finally in 2000 that held the title- “Information Extraction from a database”. The abstract described the technique as analysis of the occurrence of tuples of information found in the databases and the patterns in which they appear. Today, Google’s search engine has outgrown its meaning and involves multiple other patented utility models including their Mapping and Tagging program.

Another example is that of Facebook which started as a social networking website but, has grown to entail with it, many other ancillary functions such as games, marketplace, photo/video editing etc. The earlier granted patents of Facebook include the ‘news feed’ in 2012. More recent patents are granted on technologies in the virtual reality area with regard to its functions in the metaverse.

The saga of Amazon’s one-click feature

The ‘one-click ordering’ feature of the Amazon website was introduced as an aid to hassle-free online shopping experience. The idea was to save the shipping and payment information and allow customers to place an order with the click of just one button.

In 1999, when Amazon was only an online bookseller, it patented the one-click feature as a utility patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Barnes and Noble wanted to use the same technology for their online bookstore too. However, Amazon sued them for infringement. The fate of the case and judicial review is not available as the case was later settled outside the court with confidential terms, including whether Barnes and Noble acceptance the act of infringement. This technology was also licensed by Apple to use on their website and iTunes.

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