In computer programming, most inventions are mainly ideas, as they can be implemented in thousands ways. Is it possible and how to patent an idea?

For example, the badges of Stack Exchange are based on an idea how to give score to members based on their particular activities. How to /detect/calculate/store scores is not something special, but the idea is brilliant to motivate people for more activities.

Most of Web 2.0 interactive features are merely based on idea, and the rest is trivial. For the above example, if the implementation written in PHP and SQL Server is protected, one can copy the idea and re-write it in Python and MySQL. Thus, patenting code cannot protect the rights.

How to deal with ideas in computer software?

  • 1
    Just a small point; protection for code is covered under copyright, not a patent.
    – ahenderson
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 15:59
  • Please don't try. Reading the stuff on this site is truly depressing.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


Just because the implementation is easy doesn't mean it's any less patentable. Easy implementation isn't unique to computers. As I understand it, the molecule structure of most medicines is easy to replicate once it's known--the difficulty is in discovering a useful molecule in the first place. There's a vast number of possibilities, many easy to replicate, but only a very small subset that are useful. It's not perfectly analogous to computers since the process of discovering useful molecules often involves creating many different variants and then testing them for effectiveness, but in many ways, even Web 2.0 technologies function like this. Take your example of SE badges. StackExchange certainly wasn't the first company to try to increase user participation. There are many different techniques, each trivial to implement, but not all equally effective. The key is that one doesn't know beforehand whether the "idea," though trivial, will actually work in the market. The patent system rewards experimentation by giving exclusive rights to those who try many ideas(and patent them, of course), even if those ideas are trivially implemented.

EDIT: added italicized text

  • It is no about patentablity of a code, but patenting the code is not useful at all. The discovery/invention is the idea. The idea should be patented, otherwise, anyone can write a new code based on the idea having no connection with the patented code.
    – Googlebot
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 14:57
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    Sorry, you must have misunderstood me. Patents are for ideas. The patent claim itself need not mention any specific implementation. It can be something general like "a method of motivating users comprising calculating a user score and awarding badges according to that score." That might be invalid in light of prior art, but that's how patents capture not specific code, but ideas.
    – m3lvn
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 15:37
  • Except a bare "idea" is not patentable. I have the idea for a sky hook. I have no way to make it so no patent. If I come up a way to do it with balloons I can get a patent. I hope I can cover pretty much any way to do it with balloons. If you invent a way to make a sky hook with trained birds that is a whole different thing.
    – George White
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 21:27
  • That's not exactly correct. I don't need a way to make an invention in order to patent it; I only have to describe it in a way that enables someone of ordinary skill in the art to make and use it. We may be using different definitions of "idea." If "idea" means bare functionality, then you are correct. I may have an "idea" for a perpetual motion machine, but I can't patent it because I can't enable it. However, if I have an idea for a jet aircraft which I have no ability to make myself, but I know how to describe it in a way that allows someone else to make it, it's patentable.
    – m3lvn
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 23:38
  • @m3lvn It seems to me that there is a very fuzzy line between an abstract idea and a patentable idea. If I gave some requirements to a software developer, I am sure that he could produce working software that implements those requirements. Does that mean that those requirements are patentable? Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 13:45

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