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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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

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