The Supreme Court unanimously declared that “abstract” software patents are no longer legally kosher. “Merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas.
For instance, so-called patent trolls often sue tech companies, claiming that they own massively popular (and obvious) software features. One software patent claims to own the idea of “a method for providing personalized nutrition information.” Better Food Choices LLC sued Google, Apple, Amazon, Weight Watchers, and others alleging the they had violated the holders’ ownership of this rather broad feature.
“Although its impact cannot be fully determined right now, we believe there is strong language in the decision that will be very useful to those faced with the worst patents (which are often asserted by patent trolls),” Vera Ranieri, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writes to VentureBeat.
“We hope that lower courts will use this case to quickly invalidate patent claims that do nothing more than claim abstract ideas in connection with generic computer components.
Ranieri gave us another example of the kinds of patents that would likely be invalidated. The already invalidated Patent 8069073 claims ownership over software that provides “connection with the procurement or delivery of products or services” that end up in a financial transaction. In other words, connecting users to purchases.
In the case of Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank, the justices didn’t go as far as some had hoped in largely invalidating software patents. But there is support in Congress to significantly curtail software patents in the future.
Last year at the Consumer Electronics Show, a number of Congress reps, including those from the powerful House Judiciary committee, told me that they’re actively looking into bills that would exempt some software from the patenting process.
So, the Supreme Court’s decision today could mark a steady road to less intellectual property shenanigans in the tech industry.