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Patentability

What are the criteria for patentability in your jurisdiction?

In Switzerland, a patent can be obtained for an invention of a technical nature that is novel, non-obvious and susceptible of industrial application (Article 1 of the Patent Act).

What are the limits on patentability?

Inventions that are not of a technical nature are not patentable, including:

  • scientific theories and discoveries;
  • mathematical methods;
  • rules and methods to perform mental acts;
  • rules of games;
  • organisational procedures; and
  • aesthetic creations or designs.

To what extent can inventions covering software be patented?

Computer programs as such are not patentable. However, computer-implemented inventions are patentable (eg, inventions involving the use of a computer, computer network or other programmable apparatus, where one or more features are realised by means of a computer program).

To what extent can inventions covering business methods be patented?

Business methods as such are not patentable. However, business methods may be patentable if they are combined with technical features.

To what extent can inventions relating to stem cells be patented?

The following inventions are not patentable:

  • unmodified human embryonic stem cells and stem cell lines (Article 2(1)(e) of the Patent Act); and
  • processes for forming hybrid organisms by using human embryonic stem cells and the entities obtained thereby (Article 2(1)(b) of the Patent Act).

However, unmodified embryonic stem cells of plants or animals, unmodified human adult stem cells and modified embryonic stem cells are generally patentable.

Are there restrictions on any other kinds of invention?

The following are not patentable:

  • the human body in all phases of formation and development (including embryos) and its elements in their natural environment. However, an element of the human body is patentable if it is produced by means of a technical process and a beneficial technical effect is indicated (Article 1a of the Patent Act);
  • naturally occurring gene sequences and partial sequences as such. However, sequences deriving from a naturally occurring gene sequence or partial sequence are patentable if they are produced by means of a technical process and their function is specifically indicated (Article 1b of the Patent Act);
  • inventions whose exploitation is contrary to human dignity, that disregard the integrity of living organisms or that are in any other way contrary to public policy and morality. In particular, under Article 2(1) of the Patent Act, no patents may be granted for: 
    • processes for cloning human beings and the clones obtained thereby;
    • processes for forming hybrid organisms by using human germ cells, human totipotent cells or human embryonic stem cells and the entities obtained thereby;
    • processes of parthenogenesis by using human germinal material and the parthenogenetic entities obtained thereby;
    • processes for modifying the germ line genetic identity of human beings and the germ line cells obtained thereby;
    • the use of human embryos for non-medical purposes; and
    • processes for modifying the genetic identity of animals that are likely to cause suffering which is not justified by overriding interests worthy of protection and animals resulting from such processes;
  • inventions covering surgical, therapeutic or diagnostic methods used on humans or animals

(Article 2(2)(a) of the Patent Act); and

  • animal species, plant varieties and essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals. However, microbiological or other technical processes and the products obtained thereby, as well as inventions that concern plants or animals, are patentable provided that their application is not technically confined to a single plant or animal variety (Article 2(2)(b) of the Patent Act).

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