In this section, we discuss two issues on the intellectual property protection regarding digital libraries. The first issue is the patent protection of the retrieval mechanisms of digital library systems. The second issue is the trade secret on the numerical parametric values for retrieval operations in the parameter-setting components.
Patentable Parameter-Setting Components
The U.S. Patent Act (2005) defines that a data-processing process or method is patentable subject matter in the form of a computer-related invention (i.e., a computer program). The computer program is patentable as far as the “specific machine […] produce[s] a useful, concrete, and tangible result […] for transforming […] physical data [“physical transformation”] (In re Alappat, 1994).
The computer-related inventions often combine means for data-processing, some of which are prior disclosed inventions. Computer-related invention consists of a number of “processes” (i.e., methods or means for data processing in the form of combination of computer programs). In visual digital libraries, for example, a certain set of programs focuses on image processing, while another set of programs operates text mining. Meanwhile, in the same example, the processes in a data-processing mechanism comprise means or components for parameter-setting which is adjusted to process specific kinds of image retrieval operations (e.g., sorting proper images in certain object domains).
The problem of which process is to realize technical advancement (nonobviousness) on its combination of the prior arts, and is to be specific/enabling on its parameter-setting. These two issues are emerging problems in the advent of sophisticated data analysis technique, especially in the area of visual information retrieval in digital libraries. Uniform frameworks for protecting patentable inventions on the novel combination, and the specific parameter-setting must be formulated in engineering manner, respectively.