A unanimous Supreme Court narrowed the reach of software patents Thursday.
The Court ruled that simply involving a computer in an idea doesn’t mean it’s patentable. The justices tossed out several patents belonging to Alice, an Australian financial services company, and the ruling could invalidate other similar patents.
But the Court didn’t go as far as many patent critics had hoped, declining to strike down all software patents. Critics argue that a rise in litigation (especially over software patents) is suppressing innovation and limiting consumers’ access to technology.
The Supreme Court has long ruled that “abstract” ideas are generally not patentable. Alice’s patents covered a computer system for facilitating financial transactions. CLS Bank challenged the patents, and the high court agreed that a patentable invention must do more than just add a computer to an otherwise abstract idea.
“Merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the Court.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other technology giants had urged the Court to issue a broad ruling against software patents. In a brief to the Court, the companies wrote that abstract software patents “have become a plague on computer-related industries.”
Other companies, including Microsoft and Adobe, agreed that the Court should throw out Alice’s patents, but warned against a sweeping blow against all software patents. Those companies said the Court had no reason to “risk the potential uncertainty and unforeseen impacts” by addressing the patentability of all software.
Ultimately, the Court was careful to craft a narrow ruling. Thomas wrote that “many computer-implemented claims are formally addressed to patent-eligible subject matter,” but the Court offered little guidance on what kinds of software patents might still be valid.
The ruling comes after the Senate abandoned legislation to crack down on “patent trolls” — firms that file frivolous patent claims to extort settlements out of companies. Many tech companies argue that patent trolls have become a drain on the economy.
What We're Following See More »
"The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee says Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is poised to subpoena the Justice Department for former FBI Director James Comey’s memos, which the agency so far has failed to produce. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., warned such a move puts Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in jeopardy of being placed in contempt of Congress and the special counsel investigation of being shut down prematurely."
Referring to the AUMF introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine and Bob Corker Monday evening, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday "he won’t allow any bill to come to the House floor that he thinks would restrict military commanders’ ability to fight." Ryan "defended the legality of U.S. military strikes last week against chemical weapons-related sites in Syria, saying President Trump had the authority to order them under the Constitution’s Article II commander-in-chief powers."
Attorneys for both President Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen lost a court challenge today, as they sought to suppress evidence gathered in a raid of Cohen's office and hotel room. "U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood denied the requests and ruled that prosecutors will get first access to the information, followed by Cohen’s defense team ten days later. Wood noted that she has not yet decided whether she will appoint a special master in the case at all."