Why isn't there a requirement that all software / business method patent applications be formally specified ?

Formal methods has been around / best practice in the [Software] Engineering spheres for 30+ years, the methods and syntax are codified, and there are automated tool to verify whether a specification is complete.

I'm aware there's a steep learning curve, and formally specifying a concept / system is time consuming, and obviously by the very nature of being formally specified the domain (scope) of any specification will be explicitly stated / limited. So may require multiple derivative variants to be produced for different domains.

Anyway if the only valid software patents are now those requested via a means plus function application, that includes a robust technical disclosure and complete algorithm, this approach appears well suited to ensure the application contains both a robust technical disclosure and complete algorithm, for the limited means stated.

Most formal methods are also very bad at defining abstract concepts, as they rely on paradigms, so if you're having difficulty specifying a concept it's pretty likely patent ineligible subject matter is involved (or you should change your day job).

1 Answer 1


First, the US Constitution and Title 35 of the United States Code treat patenting inventions as a right, rather than a privilege. Adding additional requirements of the sort you would like would require the passage of new legislation (i.e., it's not something that can be changed by the United States Patent Office).

Secondly, "software patents" are already limited in scope by their claim limitations.

Could you provide an example of a software patent that you find problematic and how defining the invention via formal methods would beneficial?

  • I'll start with an old and fairly famous one: google.com/patents/US4873662 Please define / quantify: "simplicity of its operation", "unskilled operators", "could be of a game to be played by the operator", "Although the invention has been described with reference to a specific embodiment it will be appreciated that modifications can be made to the system described without departing from the invention.", "it is necessary to provide a way of charging a subscriber's account for the block or blocks of information transmitted to his terminal equipment." How????
    – arober11
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 17:44
  • ... [continuing] a formal specification is only complete when ALL terms used within it have been defined, either in elementary terms of by referencing (citing) pre existing schemas (prior art). I suspect the USPTO could revise its filing guidelines to require all terms used in an application be defined, without a legislative change. Then again perhaps Markman hearings have their place.
    – arober11
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 11:10

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