Feeds

US Supreme Court Justices hear arguments in game-changing software IP case

Which computer-implemented inventions are patent eligible?

The essential guide to IT transformation

The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a case that could help to set a new standard for when software is eligible for patent protection.

The nine judges are due to hear an hour's oral discussion on the Alice Corp v CLS Bank case, a patent lawsuit over financial software whose decision could come to affect businesses in healthcare, IT, telecoms and other industries.

Google, Dell, Microsoft, Red Hat and HP are just some of the tech companies that have filed legal papers on the issue in the hopes of swaying the court to either tighten or loosen patenting rules for software. Advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union have also submitted filings.

The case has gone on appeal to the Supreme Court after a lower court ruled that Alice Corp's patents for a computer program used in financial transactions were invalid. CLS Bank, based in New York, argued that all the patents did was describe a way of moving the concept of escrow onto a computer, so they weren't eligible for patent protection.

The arguments have made the heart of the matter just how to figure out when software is innovative and inventive and deserves IP protection. Companies like Google would prefer to see a stricter definition of innovation and fewer software programs receiving protection but other advocates say that if CLS Bank wins, software developers could lose out on needed protections for their inventions.

Google said in its amicus brief to the court that "abstract patents" should not be protected.

"Patent claims that simply describe an abstract idea such as financial intermediation and generically recite the use of conventional computer or other data processing equipment to carry out that idea are not patentable," the firm said. "Instead, a claim must disclose and limit itself to a specific way of implementing the idea.

"The software industry developed and flourished without abstract patents before changes in the Federal Circuit's jurisprudence led to a flood of them. Far from promoting innovation, abstract software patents have impaired it by granting exclusive rights over high-level ideas and thereby blocking others from undertaking the truly innovative task of developing specific applications."

But firms like patent heavyweight IBM have warned against going too far in the other direction.

"The fact that the court is now actively considering such a basic question as whether computer-implemented inventions such as software are even eligible for patent protection is deeply troubling," it said in its own filing.

"Technology has enabled an astounding diminishment of the man-machine interface, but it has not erased the need for that interface and, as a result, even the most problematic computer-implemented invention will be meaningfully different from and narrower than the associated abstract idea."

Tech firms and patent lawyers were hoping that the courts could come up with some kind of legal standard when the Court Of Appeals heard the same case last year, but instead ten judges released around 120 pages worth of opinions that failed to make anything clearer.

A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected at the end of June. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.