US court case could mean doom for software patents (Update)

Dec 06, 2013 by The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that a federal judge called the "death" of software patents.

In a worst-case scenario for the high-tech industry, if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling it could invalidate many existing software patents or at least make them more difficult to defend in lawsuits.

Justices decided to hear an appeal from electronic marketplace Alice Corp., in its attempt to patent its computer-implemented escrow systems, software, and methods. It is being challenged by CLS Bank International.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that abstract ideas, natural phenomena and laws of nature cannot be patented but has refused so far to decide whether software, online-shopping techniques and medical diagnostic tests fit into that realm.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that Alice Corp.'s patents couldn't be granted. Five of the 10-member panel agreed that Alice's attempt to patent its way of using third-party escrow accounts to overcome the risks of fraud and non-payment were not eligible to be patented. The other judges concurred in part and dissented in part.

Dissenting judges called the decision potentially disruptive to the patent system.

"Let's be clear: if all of these claims, including the system claims, are not patent-eligible, this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents," said Judge Kimberly Moore.

"There has never been a case which could do more damage to the patent system than this one," said Judge Pauline Newman.

Tech companies say software patents have played a critical role in keeping the U.S. at the cutting edge by giving people control over their inventions for nearly 20 years.

Justices will hear the case next year.

The case is 13-298, Alice Corp., v. CLS Bank International.

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User comments : 11

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Grallen
not rated yet Dec 07, 2013
The world would be a lot more productive place if this decision really could have that impact. I hope it stands, but even if it does I won't hold my breath on it's effects.
dav_daddy
1 / 5 (8) Dec 07, 2013
Innovation would quite literally stop overnight if that were to pass.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2013
Innovation would quite literally stop overnight if that were to pass.

I doubt that. Now-a-days I read of many interesting innovations through frameworks like kickstarter. In the mean time, patent-encrusted corporations wield their portfolios to strike down competitors rather than to bring us better products; and for innovation we get stuff like new colors for our phones.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2013
Innovation would quite literally stop overnight if that were to pass.

You have no idea what programmers are like.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (8) Dec 07, 2013
Innovation would quite literally stop overnight if that were to pass.

You have no idea what programmers are like.

You have no idea what economics is llike.
ForFreeMinds
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2013
This article hardly covers the issue, and the balance between incentives to create new things, and the benefits to society via competition. Certainly inventors should have some time limited right to the benefits of their invention, as the Constitution states.

And the problem is further complicated by the court system, whereby patent trolls (and this includes Microsoft, Apple and Google - see http://reason.com...ny-foun) have found a lucrative business in suing for patent violations where the loser in the court doesn't pay the winner's legal fees. Thus, defendents often settle to minimize their costs, rather than pay more to win.

Personally I find Reason magazine's coverage to be the best source of information, because it looks at both sides (e.g., the title of this article might have been "US Court case could mean doom for patent trolls") rather than a simplistic one sided article on the subject. http://reason.com/tags/patents
ForFreeMinds
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2013
Here's a article that better examines this issue: http://reason.com...dmothers
daggoth
not rated yet Dec 07, 2013
The problem with such patents is it prevents programmers from exploring certain areas therefor stifling innovation and development.
Waaalt
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2013
Innovation would quite literally stop overnight if that were to pass.
You have no idea what programmers are like.
You have no idea what economics is llike.


I know economics and you're making an old and ill-fitting industrial age argument when it's an information age issue.

In software, patents have become a strong net destroyer of innovation by creating extremely long lasting roadblocks to reasonable competition. 20 years is far longer for software than it is for mechanical or pharmaceutical engineering etc. 20 years often exceeds the entire useful lifetime of the innovation for software; thus the balance is obviously far off kilter as far as creating public benefit goes.

Would be competitors have to waste time "innovating" by coming up with redundant, sub-optimal solutions to particular academic problems. Existing rules have stuck consumers with unreasonable lack of competition and choice, and high prices/low purchasing power.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2013
In software, patents have become a strong net destroyer of innovation by creating extremely long lasting roadblocks to reasonable competition. 20 years is far longer for software than it is for mechanical or pharmaceutical engineering etc. 20 years often exceeds the entire useful lifetime of the innovation for software; thus the balance is obviously far off kilter as far as creating public benefit goes.


Sounds like you're making the same argument as me, but we differ on degrees or time frames. But that really isn't what you're talking about is it ;)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2013
You have no idea what programmers are like.


You have no idea what economics is llike.


I'll hand you a thought or two. Programmers have gone through an academic course that is way harder than economics.
To put it simply: No programmer would fail an economics course. On the other hand hardly any economics major would even pass the basic math course required for computer sciences.

CS majors are (to a man and woman) smarter than economics majors. They KNOW that they will get payed less than the economics majors once they are in the job market. From this tidbit of knowledge you can deduce how much economics means to someone who loves programming: diddly squat.
(And from this you can also deduce why programmers are frustrated by having managers/marketing/etc. who are invaribaly dumber than they are)

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