Software Patentability and SMEs in Technological Markets Across Europe

Giuseppe Bonifacio

Student thesis: Master thesis


The thesis objective is to provide a review of the debate concerning patentability of computer programs across the European Union and investigate how its complexity applies to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Software inventions have increasingly been acknowledged as a fundamental pulsing force for the development of innovative ways to do business. In conjunction to this, the contribution of SMEs to the European economy has been significantly growing in recent years. Nonetheless, the underlying context of the EU regulatory framework has been the subject of an extensive dispute, which progressively shaped the requirements associated to software patentability. The thesis argues that although the patent system could have a remarkable role in fostering the market for ideas in the software industry and in spurring innovative SMEs’ growth, the hybrid nature of software and the complexity of the EU law make the choice of patenting rather complicated and unique. The methodological viewpoint adopted is an economic analysis of law. The purpose of the research being to provide valid rationale with which to flag undesirable issues that may hinder the welfare of software SMEs. Both qualitative and quantitative data have been investigated through the lens of an exploratory data analysis. The patterns identified have been applied to the context of SMEs to gather meaningful findings that may pave the way for further research. The findings suggest that frequently software patentability ends up being assessed on a case-bycase basis, leading to a lack of harmonization within the European Patent Office that is particularly detrimental to SMEs. In spite of the recent increase in software patents applications and grants, reluctancy is still observed regarding the grant of patent protection for software inventions when compared with other technical fields. Furthermore, Intellectual Property law is found to be an opportunity to foster SMEs’ growth through stronger appropriability, but also a potential threat due to the uncertainty generated by its complexity. Ultimately, the implementation of a clear incentives’ framework for software patentability protection is recommended as a way to enhance the disclosure of inventions and fill SMEs lack of awareness concerning IP rights.

EducationsMSc in Management of Innovation and Business Development, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages94