March 2002



EU Proposal will support Inventions in Bioinformatics





detail what is meant by a technical contribution. However, as the EU has already passed a directive on biotechnology patents, it is clear that biotechnology is to be considered as “technical”. As a result, patents in bioinformatics should be granted and, more importantly, enforceable in all members states of the European Union.




The EU’s proposal also discusses the patentability of algorithms. The notes attached to the proposal emphasise that an algorithm by itself without any reference to a physical environment cannot be patentable. However, an algorithm that interacts with a physical environment will be patentable. Thus an algorithm to examine gene sequences for homologies or to process data from a microchip array should be patentable (again assuming that it is new and involves an inventive step).

Presentation of Information


There are no provisions in the proposal

concerning the presentation of information which is currently also excluded as such from protection under European patent laws. Scatter plots are, however, generated by computer programs and reveal information about relationships in biotechnology. Thus programs for generating scatter plots should be protected.


More generally, the European Patent Office has in the past emphasised that inventions relating to the protection of information relating to the internal state of a device is patentable. This means, for example, that the presentation of results obtained from a microarray could be protected by patents.




The new proposal will not affect protection granted under copyright law. This was harmonised throughout the European Union in the early 1990s. Copyright protection, however, only extends to the particular expression of a computer program, i.e. to the object code or the source code. It does not extend to the ideas or principles behind the computer program. These ideas and principles can, however, be protected by patent law. The new proposal on patents will therefore be complementary to the existing copyright protection.




One concern raised in the past is that the use of patents will prevent the development of new products which can inter-operate with a competitor’s existing product. The proposal




For further information, please contact:


Robert Harrison, Ph.D.,

Huber & Schüssler Patent Attorneys

Truderinger Str. 246

81825 Munich / Germany

Tel: +49 89 43 77 88 0

Fax: +49 89 43 77 88 99







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