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Why In Re Bilski Could Wipe Microsoft off the Map

Posted in America, Free/Libre Software, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 9:19 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

John Paul Stevens, SCOTUS photo - portrait
John Paul Stevens, SCOTUS

Summary: Without software patents, Microsoft would be left toothless and clawless, not just clueless

IT HAS been a while since we last saw an update regarding the Bilski case. Justice Stevens is not around anymore, which is not good news because he was hostile towards software patents in the US. The USPTO meanwhile brags about a rise in ‘business’ (number of patents), probably refusing to acknowledge that it’s not an indication of success, it’s not supposed to be a ‘meat market’ for monopolies. If a university, for example, was to hand out degrees to anyone who requests that, it would devalue those degrees in the same way that patents are no longer a sign of invention. Many patents overlap other patents and disregard prior art. It is a mess. Now, Microsoft may brag that it has over 10,000 patents, but 85% of its patent applications are software patents. Assuming the present is representative of past filings, Microsoft would be left with just ~1,500 (none involving software) if or when In Re Bilski puts software patents right where they belong — the wastebasket.

So, where is Bilski at right now? According to Legal Times, the sessions may resume next week.

The Supreme Court handed down two relatively low-profile decisions this morning, leaving to another day some of the most-awaited cases of the term like Bilski v. Kappos, the business-methods patent-eligibility case that was argued last Nov. 9. The Court won’t be in session again until May 17.

Pogson writes about “problems in Re Bilski for SCOTUS”:

The “amicus” briefs were piled high with supporters of software patents. They were all trying to dodge the issue one way or another. Even Bilski and the opposition both skirted the issue as best they could. The patent office does not want business methods patents but does want software patents (It has issued thousands.). One argument was that adding software to a computer made the computer a specific machine even if it did not transform anything more than bits of information. Has “abstract” lost its meaning with people? Information, itself, is an abstraction, the idea that we can have an idea about ideas…

Meanwhile we find Bob Warfield explaining “the problem with software patents” and concluding as follows:

When we give broad protection like patents to software (or potentially music and books), we wall off via monopoly very large amounts of IP territory. This includes territory that the innovator never needed or perhaps intended to protect. Territory that doesn’t matter in the least to extracting the value of the invention as it was originally conceived. Such accidental monopolies are not good for innovation and are just legal lottery tickets equivalent to ambulance chasing. This kind of protection should be eliminated as there is little evidence software patents are stimulating any kind of innovation whatsoever and lots of evidence it hinders innovation.

“[T]here is little evidence software patents are stimulating any kind of innovation whatsoever and lots of evidence it hinders innovation,” argues Warfield while the FFII points to Mark Webbink’s Web site (he has worked for Red Hat and others) which contains many references on the subject. Webbink explains:

For the first two decades that computers and software were being developed one could not obtain a patent on software. That began to change with a series of court cases in the 1980′s. Among others, I do not consider those court decisions to have helped the software industry. Rather they have only served to slow down innovation. On this page I provide some of the content that has brought me to the conclusion that software patents are problematic.

Is there any compelling argument for software patents? (other than giving lawyers/trolls more business)

“Software patents have been nothing but trouble for innovation. We the software engineers know this, yet we actually have full-blown posters in our break-room showcasing the individual engineers who came up with something we were able to push through the USPTO. Individually, we pretty much all consider the software-patent showcase poster to be a colossal joke.” —Kelledin, PLI: State Street Overruled… PERIOD

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  1. Jose_X said,

    May 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm


    Before retiring this Summer, it’s very possible Stevens might play an important role in writing up the Bilski opinion.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Yes, but about an hour ago the FFII’s president told me: “I hope he will write the main opinion, and leave some big poison pills for the patent guys (hackers of patent law)… once Bilski will be issued, you will see plenty of workshops for patent attorneys trying to hack the decision to get swpats through…”

    The Bilski case is like SCO… never ending.

    Jose_X Reply:


    And speaking of the FFII, I think it was their Bilski brief that recommended that the machine or transformation be applied such that a patent would only be awarded if the innovation component coming from software was not considered in determining patentability. Essentially, they don’t want anything you create with software to in itself lead you to infringe.

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