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06.29.14

Arguments Persist Over Whether Software Patents Died in the US Whilst European Patent Law is Quietly Assimilated to US

Posted in Europe, Law, Patents at 5:17 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Keep clean

Summary: Continued discussion about the meaning of the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling and what it means to programmers all around the world, not just patent lawyers who seek to monopolise and tax software development

THE recent SCOTUS ruling on patents ended software patent scope where it reaches "abstract ideas" (whatever exactly it means, as no criteria were specified or even a test). The ruling left room for patent lawyers to exploit (pretending nothing has actually changed). We have demonstrated, based on dozens of analyses from patent lawyers, that lawyers’ responses are quite consistent, ensuring only that people still come to them to patent algorithms.

Here is another new analysis from Dykema Gossett PLLC, saying that “Litigants involved in current or future litigation over software patents will want to study the claims at issue to assess their vulnerability under the framework laid out in Alice Corp. While patent eligibility of any particular software claim will remain a case-by-case, fact specific inquiry, at least now there is some guidance by which to conduct that inquiry.”

“Basically, the corporate media is now a platform by which lawyers ‘report’ to the public on a decision in which they have vested interests.”Dr. Glyn Moody looks at the glass as half full, celebrating the fact that the SCOTUS is at least recognising that there are limits to software patents. He also, however, bemoans Europe moving in the opposite direction. To quote Moody: “I’ve written a number of times about the curse of the “as such” clause in Article 52 of the European Patent Convention, which has allowed software patents to creep in to Europe by the backdoor. In the US, which has a far more liberal attitude to patenting everything under the sun, there has been a cognate problem, whereby patent applications have been made on a abstract/trivial idea simply by appending “using a computer” to make it novel. At long last, the US Supreme Court has addressed this issue.”

“European Unitary Patent system will work means that there is no independent court to which appeals can be made – only an appeal court within the new patent system itself. That lack of an external check is an extremely dangerous feature – and one that the European Union may well come to regret.”

The European angle is interesting as the EU’s position on software patents has been gradually morphing/assimilating to the US position.

Here is America Online (AOL) giving a ‘report’ (not analysis) about the SCOTUS ruling. Guess who wrote it. That’s right, AOL treats ‘IP’ groups as journalists now, boosting their position, which is what we foresaw and worried about. The article begins with the following promotion: “Michael Gulliford is the Founder and Managing Principal of the Soryn IP Group,a new breed of patent management and advisory company that provides a host of patent-centric services to a select group of innovators.”

“The great majority of patent trolls use software patents, so rather than speak about stopping trolls we need to concentrate on patent scope.”Basically, the corporate media is now a platform by which lawyers ‘report’ to the public on a decision in which they have vested interests.

Here is an analysis from Davies Collison Cave, separate from the press (legal sites host these). It says: “To be eligible for a patent in the US, a computer implemented invention will probably now need to provide a technological improvement, solve a technical problem or effect some improvement in technology or a technical field. It will certainly need to involve more than simply implementing an abstract idea on a generic computer.

“Whether it was intentional or not, the US Supreme Court may have introduced into US law technical contribution requirements similar to those of European patent law.”

Yes, so the US is moving closer to EU patent law while EU patent law is moving closer to US patent law, which includes software patents. There seems to be some kind of dangerous convergence here. We need to fight hard to stop it.

Here is another new analysis from Stinson Leonard Street LLP (another patents firm):

Software patents vulnerable: use of a computer is “not enough”

[...]

This decision will likely be cheered by technology companies with patent portfolios directed to more sophisticated inventions that go beyond computer-implemented business methods. However, software patents directed to general business processes, such as those that involve the performance of well-known financial transactions on a computer, may be in jeopardy of being invalidated.

That basically sounds like the “as such” nonsense that we have in Europe and to some degree in New Zealand as well. This is not good. This might mean that spurious patent litigation (over software patents) can soon break out of places like the Eastern District of Texas, where stories like this one are being reported by the patent trolls-obsessed:

A controversial patent that has been used to wring millions of dollars in settlements from hundreds of companies is on the verge of getting shut down.

US Circuit Judge William Bryson, sitting “by designation” in the Eastern District of Texas, has found in a summary judgment ruling (PDF) that the patent, owned by TQP Development, is not infringed by the two defendants remaining in the case, Intuit Corp. and Hertz Corp. In a separate ruling (PDF), Bryson rejected Intuit’s arguments that the patent was invalid.

Notice the type of patents they are using. The great majority of patent trolls use software patents, so rather than speak about stopping trolls we need to concentrate on patent scope. Here is Steven W. Lundberg (highly vocal proponent of software patents [1, 2, 3]) boosting software patents again (as if nothing has changed) and several other patent boosters like Fenwick & West LLP and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. Perhaps they view all this as an opportunity (in the long run) to file their patents in yet more continents, making even more money by taking away from society and tying the hands of programmers.

Timothy B. Lee is a little more optimistic than us. He says that “the Supreme Court might kill software patents” and here is why:

Last week I argued that the Supreme Court’s widely anticipated ruling in the case of CLS v. Alice wasn’t the knockout blow software patent opponents had been hoping for. The Supreme Court struck down the specific patent at issue in the case, but it was vague about when, if ever, other software patents were allowed.

Reading commentary on the case has made me more convinced that software patent owners should be worried.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court said two things: you can’t patent abstract ideas, and merely implementing an abstract idea on a generic computer isn’t enough to turn it into a patentable invention. The big question is: what’s an abstract idea?

The patents the Supreme Court struck down last week and in a 2010 case called Bilski v. Kappos were extremely abstract. In essence, both patents took an abstract business strategy — like holding money in escrow to prevent either party to a deal from backing out — and claimed the concept of implementing it on a computer. In both 2010 and 2014, the Supreme Court said that wasn’t enough for a patent.

Some software patent supporters, like former Patent Office director David Kappos, have concluded that the decision leaves most software patents unscathed. But the respected patent scholar Robert Merges, a software patent supporter himself, is not so sure.

David Kappos is not credible because he worked both for the patents-greedy USPTO and for IBM, one of the most aggressive patent-rattling companies and leading lobbyist for software patents, even in Europe. The argument we made some days ago is that all software patents are — by definition almost — abstract. Unless there is a working implementation to be patented, all that the application allude to are ideas, barely any function at all.

What it boils down to is this; if a judge was competent enough to tell the difference between pseudo code, programming, UML etc. (which is unlikely, especially in clueless, biased and corrupt courts like CAFC), then every software patent would be deemed “abstract”, hence invalid. To construct a legally-cohesive argument along those lines might require a lawyer. Are there any “good” patent lawyers out there?

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