Patents on methods of doing business
Traditionally, patent protection was awarded only to technical inventions, such as light bulbs, shavers, medicines and so on. New financial techniques or ways of selling things were often explicitly excluded in patent laws. As electronic commerce became more popular, new ways of selling things were offering services over the Internet were developed. Since these new business methods involved computers, communication systems and other technical things, many inventors in this field tried to obtain patent protection. The 1998 State Street Bank decision in the USA ruled that patents on business methods were as valid as any other type of patent. The combination of these two of events resulted in an explosive growth of the number of business method patents.
While business method-related inventions may occur in any field of technology, most are at least marginally related to the field of e-commerce. Since this is a very young and fast-moving field, it is often difficult to determine what is known and what is new. As a result, there are quite a few business method-related patents which claim known or obvious inventions. Because of the high cost of court proceedings necessary to invalidate a granted patent, being confronted with such a patent can be very problematic, especially for small companies.