The UK is home to many FinTech organisations. Intellectual property (IP) plays a key role in the success of these organisations. However, inadequate use of IP protection is not uncommon in this field, and is sometimes only considered as an afterthought, when it may be too late.

IP can be protected in various ways. It is possible to protect how things look (e.g. an app layout) using designs, and protect the organisation's brands using trademarks. It is also possible to protect how things work using a patent. However, there seems to be much uncertainty from clients, especially start-ups in this field, about whether it is possible to obtain patent protection in this area.

The simple answer is that some FinTech technologies are patentable, whereas some are not.  As an example, a common pitfall for FinTech applications in Europe is when the technology is considered to be a method of doing business. Pure business methods are going to struggle. Whereas, the chances improve where the invention is focussed instead on the manner of implementation at system level.

What makes matters more interesting is that different countries have different requirements for patentability. This means the same invention may be more successful in some territories than in others. For example, the UK is typically one of the more challenging countries for these types of applications. The European Patent Office on the other hand is generally more favourable, as is the US. On this point, it is worth noting that it is possible to obtain patent protection via a European patent. Do not worry too much about Brexit, as it has not affected this route.  

Why are the territorial differences important? In short, patents are territorial rights. For example, a US patent is enforceable in the US, not in Europe, and vice-versa. Without proper guidance, organisations sometimes file applications for technologies that are not patentable, or fail to protect technologies that are. The former can waste money, whereas the latter can potentially open the door to competitors.

With this in mind, any organisations considering filing patent applications in this field are highly advised to seek advice early on from a patent attorney with particular expertise in this area. Doing so will save time and money in the end.

Originally published 20 April 2021

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