Is spreadsheet software protected by patents? I know that in the early days of spreadsheets there were legal battles over this question. A quick search on Google patents also shows that there are people who claim to have a patent on the concept of a spreadsheet.

If I were to create spreadsheet-type software, would I be infringing on patents and be at risk of being taken to court by patent trolls or other companies?

  • Could you share some of the patents you found?
    – m3lvn
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


Short answer is that the devil is in the details. I doubt that one could successfully patent the generic concept of a spreadsheet program today (or, if there were any, would have since expired). However, one could certainly patent certain improvements on spreadsheet programs, or methods of implementing them. I don't think making a spreadsheet program will subject you to patent liability per se, but certain details of your concept or implementation might.


The first electronic spreadsheet was LANPAR in 1969. It was extensively used across the US by AT&T and the Bell Operating Companies and Bell Canada. It incorporated Forward Referencing for which the inventors Rene Pardo and Remy Landau obtained a patent. No other spreadsheet until Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983 had this cornerstone feature. The first spreadsheet program on micro computers was Visicalc which was very revolutionary in 1981. However, the creators did not take out a patent since software patents were not well established back then.

  • Even if they did obtain a patent in 1981, it would have expired by now.
    – Eric S
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 0:37

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