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New guidance: European Patent Office updates Guidelines on the patentability of databases

Author: Atom Content Marketing

Published: 01 May 2021

Businesses developing software which includes database management systems and information retrieval should review whether it is capable of being protected by a patent in the EU, following publication of an amended version of the European Patent Office (EPO) Guidelines for Examination.

The Guidelines (at new chapter G-II, 3.6.4 ‘Database management systems and information retrieval’) describe database management systems as ‘technical systems implemented on computers to perform the technical tasks of storing and retrieving data using various data structures for efficient management of data’.

One requirement for patentability is that a feature which specifies the internal functioning of the database management system must be the technical solution to a technical problem - non-technical features are disregarded. The updated Guidelines provide instances clarifying which features of such systems satisfy this requirement, and which do not.

Interestingly, the Guidelines apparently now indicate that merely ‘optimising the execution of … structured queries with respect to the computer resources needed (such as CPU, main memory or hard disk)’ can amount to a technical effect for these purposes. Previously, this was not enough on its own – although the Guidelines also clarify that ‘information retrieval’ which classifies results by subjective criteria such as linguistic rules or cognitive content, do not make a technical contribution.

Note that the UK Intellectual Property Office and the EPO do not approach patents for software in the same way. On occasion software that is not patentable under one system may be patentable under the other.

Operative date

  • Now


  • Businesses owning software which includes database management systems and information retrieval should consider the amended Guidelines and review whether their software is capable of being protected by a patent in the EU.

This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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