Feeds

Yes, software can be patented, US Supremes say

'Machine-or-transformation' test not only game in town

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The US Supreme Court on Monday preserved the right of inventors to patent software and other intangible business methods in a highly anticipated ruling that disappointed critics who say such patents stifle competition and innovation.

The ruling came in a case in which plaintiffs Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw tried to patent a procedure traders could follow to hedge against seasonal price fluctuations of energy commodities. The US Patent and Trademark Office denied their application on the grounds the method wasn't a tangible invention and as such merely manipulated an abstract idea or solved a purely mathematical problem. That reasoning was upheld on appeal, and on Monday, the high court also affirmed the rejection of the application.

But a majority of the Supreme Court justices went on to say that the so-called “machine-or-transformation” test at the core of the case wasn't the sole test for determining whether an invention was eligible for patent protection. They added that a “business method is simply one kind of 'method' that is, at least in some circumstances, eligible for patenting.”

The court is unaware of any meaning of a process that requires it to be tied to a machine or the transformation of an article, they continued.

The majority opinion went on to temper their ruling somewhat by saying that while the governing patent statute clearly permits business method patents, “it does not suggest broad patentability of such claimed inventions.”

The decision, released on the final day of the Supreme Court's current term, comes as critics claim that patent eligibility is so generous to inventors that many common-sense methods end up winning protection. During oral arguments in November several justices appeared skeptical of methods patents, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor asking whether there could be a patent for for speed dating and Justice Antonin Scalia asking if animal trainers could patent processes for horse whispering.

Indeed many of those critics on Monday warned the decision would worsen an already murky process.

“The landscape of patent law has been a cluttered, dangerous mess for almost two decades,” Eben Moglen, chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, said here. “The confusion and uncertainty behind today’s ruling guarantees that the issues involved in Bilski v. Kappos will have to return to the Supreme Court after much money has been wasted and much innovation obstructed.”

And in a concurring decision Justice John Paul Stevens warned the majority opinion would only invite abuse.

“The Court is quite wrong, in my view, to suggest that any series of steps that is not itself an abstract idea or law of nature may constitute a 'process' within the meaning of §101” of the statute at issue in the case, he wrote. “The language in the Court’s opinion to this effect can only cause mischief. The wiser course would have been to hold that petitioners’ method is not a 'process' because it describes only a general method of engaging in business transactions — and business methods are not patentable.”

The case is Bliski et al. v. Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for intellectual property and director, Patent and Trademark Office. A PDF of the decision in its entirety is here. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
Redmond top man Satya Nadella: 'Microsoft LOVES Linux'
Open-source 'love' fairly runneth over at cloud event
Chrome 38's new HTML tag support makes fatties FIT and SKINNIER
First browser to protect networks' bandwith using official spec
Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...
Wobbly Gmail, Contacts, Calendar on the other hand ...
Admins! Never mind POODLE, there're NEW OpenSSL bugs to splat
Four new patches for open-source crypto libraries
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.