PatLim Research Project

The Inner and Outer Limits of Patent Protection (PatLim) is a truly international and collaborative research project with an ambitious research agenda that strives towards oustanding research results on fundamental questions of patent law. The project combines top Finnish academic expertise with consortium partners consisting of Hanken School of Economics, Aalto University and the Helsinki Institute of Information Technology (HIIT).Other Finnish and foreign partners include: The IPR University Center at the University of Helsinki, the Center for Information and Innovation Law at the University of Copenhagen, University of Cambridge, UC Berkeley, University of Oxford and University of Bayreuth.. It would not be possible to research the complex subject-matter of PatLim sufficiently  and holistically without a consortium because there are simply not enough resources in any individual research institution in Finland for this kind of ambitious research project.

At the centre of PatLim is the interaction between law and technology. The goal is to provide a richer understanding of the ways that patent law reacts to and provokes complex technological phenomena. The methodologies employed are legal dogmatics, comparative law, Law & Economics, Law & Technology and quantitative and qualitative empirical research. Although PatLim considers the software sector, the goal of PatLim is to present research results that are applicable to other fields of technology, such as biotechnology, which, in the same way as software, can be characterized by cumulative, incremental innovation models.

The patent system is designed with one type of invention in mind: a new device or machine covered by a single patent. In incremental component industries, however, where new developments build upon existing technologies and innovation occurs through small improvements, modern products can easily be covered by dozens or even hundreds of different patents. This poses a severe problem for the operation of the patent system.

PatLim covers a broad range of issues spanning from the initial filing of the patent applications and going all the way to the enforcement phase. Accordingly, a clear distinction should be made between the acquisition of a patent right (the inner limits of patent protection) and the way it is used (the outer limits of patent protection). Specifically, issues relating to patentable subject-matter (novelty, inventive step, and disclosure) can be considered "inner limits", while patent flooding, hold-up problems, royalty stacking, enforcement and licensing concerns define the "outer limits" of (software) patent protection. In addition to the theoretical component of PatLim, the project also includes an empirical study. Empirical data concerning the reasons and consequences of the outer and inner limits of patent protection in the software sector are currently not readily available — data on the European state of affairs is especially lacking. The need for readily available information on the issue is particularly critical at the moment, as Europe, after many years of discussions, seems to be getting closer to achieving harmonization in the patent field, under projects such as the European Community Patent (COMPAT) and the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA). As desirable as the harmonization of the European patent system might be, the creation of a unique European patent court to deal with patent issues all across Europe, as it currently stands, raises serious patent 'quality' concerns; as well as anxieties over the effectiveness of the future patent examination system.

The extreme importance that software plays in our society is undeniable. At the same time, this is one of the industries that is most affected by both the inner and outer patent limits. Thus, there is an impellent need to deeply investigate software-related patent issues before taking any step forward. Neglecting this could, in fact, have policy implications and also result in inefficient solutions for the whole patent system.

Funding period: 1.9.2011-31.8.2015.
Amount of funding 800.000 euros (of which 50 % to Hanken)


Norrgård, Marcus (Project participant)
Ballardini, Rosa Maria (Project participant)
Lee, Nari (Project participant)
Pitkänen, Olli, HIIT/Aalto University, Finland (Working partner)
Virtanen, Perttu, HIIT/Aalto University, Finland (Project participant)
Bruun, Niklas Gabriel (Working partner)
Ohly, Ansgar, University of Bayreuth, Germany (Working partner)
Schovsbo, Jens, University of Copenhagen, Denmark (Working partner)
Larson, Kelli Lee (Project participant)
Lönnqvist, Pamela, University of Helsinki, Finland (Project participant)

For more information view the project page on HARIS.