Like with most industries, digitisation of the wind energy industry is increasing. Good
examples of software that provide energy production gains or cost savings are already
available on the market. But what if you develop a new software solution? Is
protection possible then? After all, European law does not permit the patenting of
software as such. However, more is possible than you might think. Patenting software can
therefore be very worthwhile.
Column by Walter Hart
Software is subject to copyright, providing already limited protection. With a patent broader
and thus better protection is possible. Due to a legal provision, however, the software must be
of a sufficiently technical nature in order to be protected by a patent.
If you are the inventor of a new and innovative physical product for generating wind energy,
then it is clearly a technical solution. With software, that is not always the case. A programme
that processes customer data, sends out invoices, or collects data is usually not categorised as a
technical solution to a technical problem. It can therefore not be protected by a patent.
Nevertheless, under certain conditions a patent can also be obtained for software. One
condition is that the software has a technical effect. For example, an application that adjusts the
position of wind turbine blades in relation to the direction and speed of the wind. Or artificial
intelligence that learns to recognise, via photos, when corrosion is developing on the tower or
other parts. This enables timely maintenance. In other words: a technical solution for a
technical problem, with an effect in the physical world.
Ahead of the competition
The average software innovation in the wind energy industry is therefore patentable. But what
is the advantage? An important advantage is that you offer something that someone else does
not have. In a tendering process, this will give you an advantage over your competitors. Think,
for example, of an application that allows you to carry out maintenance remotely. This is faster
and cheaper for your customer and makes you more interesting as a supplier.
It is not only personal use that makes a patent worthwhile. With the patent, you are in control;
you determine who may use your innovation. You do this, for example, by licensing the
software. This gives you control over the parties that work with your innovation and you also
reap the financial benefits.
Even though many things are possible, applying for a patent on software remains a complex
matter. Research into novelty and a watertight description of the innovation are required. The
novelty and inventive step must be clearly evident. Therefore, always call in an expert when you
are thinking about patenting software applications and, together with a patent attorney, ensure
that the patent will benefit you.
Walter Hart, together with colleague Matthijs van der Linden, provide a column for Windpowernl and Windenergie-nieuws.nl. Walter Hart is Partner, Dutch & European Patent Attorney at EP&C Patent Attorneys, adviser and service provider in Intellectual Property protection. Walter studied civil engineering in Delft and has extensive experience in the fields of production machinery, infrastructure, composite products, wind energy, hydrogen, automotive, transport and storage systems, drilling technology, tools, and horticultural technology.
Do you have a specific question on patents for innovative wind-related technologies? If so, please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org