In the United States, is there no circumstance where someone can use a software patent for free? This may seem obvious, but with software is very nuanced.

I searched and couldn't find anyone who addressed these questions specifically.

Say it's a general patent for parsing old written financial statements that have been OCRed, and extracting specific data types into a database. Say the language of the patent is not for the software itself, but intended for anyone that will write software to extract the same data types.

Some possibilities:

  1. I am assuming that anyone can create software and use it themselves for their personal use. But what is nuanced is that someone can use it on a machine or on behalf of someone else.

  2. Can someone create free software that has a patented version, and allow people to download it online from a place like github and install it themselves? I'm assuming this is not allowed.

  3. Can someone use it as on free website that uses the free version of the software as the back end?

  4. Can someone send me the data, and then I can process the data on my own computer and send it back to them, free of charge?

  5. Can someone do any/all of the above in a country without software patents, with users in the United States?

1 Answer 1


Assuming, post Alice, a few Software and / or Business Process patents are enforceable:

1) The exemptions only cover research / pure educational purposes. So demonstrating a method is permitted, but you cannot use a copy of another's invention for it's intended purpose. You definitely can't use a copy of the invention to offer a service to a third party.

2) Yes, source code is no more an invention than the patent application documentation, which is in the Public domain, so in itself it is not protected / can't infringe a patent. It's only use of the software, in context, that would infringe.

3) Not if you are in the US.

4) No, see 1.

5) Probably, or even in a country where software / business Processes are patentable, but the particular invention / inventive step hasn't been protected.

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