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My startup mentor suggested that it's important to protect my SaaS startup from bigger fish, in particular, to look at the product and consider what might be patentable.

Is there a process or perhaps some pointed questions to ask myself about the software to identify patent candidates?

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As a technical advisor to a patent law firm, I have seen that there can be a huge difference in the value of a patent, depending on the professionalism of the patent attorney.

If you believe you have a million dollar idea, it is well worth the expense of getting a high quality patent. Of course, the problem is that you may not know if the idea is worth anything at this stage.

Still, you may later regret the few thousand dollars you save by using a less expensive patenting process.

I will add that a really good patent attorney does not only write a patent. S/he will look at the core idea, discuss with you your business plan, considers additional ways you may not have considered that the idea could earn money, and devises a patent strategy that will protect your interests. This process is more expensive than just banging out a patent (which may not end up protecting what you intended).

Best of luck in your venture.

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Software "per se" is not patentable. That is, a claim to an algorithm for execution, alone, will never fly.

A machine, or a method to enable a machine (by a processor executing instructions), may be patentable. There are a lot of new issues regarding software since the "Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank" decision regarding patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. Go to:http://www.uspto.gov/patent/laws-and-regulations/examination-policy/examination-guidance-and-training-materials and look at the 101 materials there, if you really want to know the current state. It's a moving target.

But to really get an answer, hire an attorney and have all options identified. It really is the only way to know for sure.

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Software Per Sere can not be patentable. However, a software along with a hardware to provide technical solutions can be considered as patentable.

As long as you could show your software as a product and provided with machine or hardware or embedded then it can be considered.

You may have to conduct the patent search before proceeding to file, whether your software is eligible for patentable.

You may be interested to read Why to conduct patent search?

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In order to protect your startup with patents, and prevent your startup from infringing on another inventor's patent, you must perform a patent search with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Google has created a portal 'Google Patents' which provides valuable information, collects citations and can be done very easily.

To Perform a Patent Search with Google, enter 2 or 3 general terms related to your invention: an example using the search terms "Software" and "Data Analysis". Google will display the best results which can then be sorted by publishing date or relevance. Generally the first patent suggested by google will be close to what you are looking for, For Example, the first result from the previous example is a patent titled 'Data Import System For Data Analysis System'. From there you can view new patents which cited this patent to see what has been patented before and areas where your startup can gain IP protection.

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