Bonum Certa Men Certa

Good News: US Supreme Court Rejects Efforts to Revisit Alice, Most Software Patents to Remain Worthless

Summary: 35 U.S.C. ۤ 101 will likely remain in tact for a long time to come; courts have come to grips with the status quo, as even the Federal Circuit approves the large majority of invalidations by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board's (PTAB) panels, initiated by inter partes reviews (IPRs)

2017 and 2018 have been very good years. Irrespective of what the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants as patents (more on that in a separate post), courts do a good job. They're a lot tougher than before.



"Irrespective of what the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants as patents (more on that in a separate post), courts do a good job."As Karl Auerbach put it some days ago: "The supreme court and the IP bar have gotten a lot smarter about software, so they are far more able to recognize that a huge portion of software patents are simply old ideas rewrapped as code and are thus not eligible for patent protection.."

Here's the full comment (a reply I received):

I do not accept the mantra that “software is math”. Sure, computers operate through the application of the laws of physics, via the emergent properties of electronics and electro-mechanical devices. But so do procedures in chemistry. The act of using a hammer to pound a nail is ultimately “mathematical” in the sense that it is an expression of the laws of force and mass and velocity - all of which are usually expressed in mathematical form. That would make a patent on a novel and non-obvious use of a hammer and nails to be unpatentable.

Some software is, indeed, used to computer mathematical expressions. So are pencils. And pencils are not unpatentable because they are mathematics. (Pencils are unpatentable because they or no longer novel or non-obvious.)

The analogy with gears is to counter the argument that software has no physical reality - which is not true given that once it is reduced to its basic form it consists of charges in electronic circuits that, when combined with electrical time pulses, turns into a very physical machine - but with electrical charges interacting rather then gears meshing.

The main problem that has existed with software patents is that they fail the required test of being non-intuitive to someone practiced in the art of computer programming. The US patent office for decades refused to hire computer people, so it made itself intentionally stupid and thus thought that every chunk of software was non-intuitive. The head of the USPTO during much of that time was a total jerk - he even was booed by a bunch of IP lawyers at a meeting I attended.

The supreme court and the IP bar have gotten a lot smarter about software, so they are far more able to recognize that a huge portion of software patents are simply old ideas rewrapped as code and are thus not eligible for patent protection. But no court has said that a patent, just because it is expressed in the form of a computer programs, is by virtue of that expression, not patentable.


The way things stand, technology companies gained leverage over law firms. It's still not ideal. As Benjamin Henrion put it the other day in light of this report ("Google, Amazon Invited to Talk Patent Eligibility With Lawmakers"): "Software developers and small companies not invited to discuss software patents, only large companies and patent lawyers..."

The above report comes from a lawyer's section, too. "If you have no money," I told Henrion, "then your opinion does not matter. You're disposable "workforce"..."

The above talk, however, did not deal with courts directly. They're separate. So what do courts say? The decision to reassess Helsinn v Teva (several days ago) was put in our daily links as it's pretty irrelevant to us (it's not at all about patent scope/quality). As proponents of patents on life put it, "Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Helsinn v. Teva" (mentioned here before in passing).

"The way things stand, technology companies gained leverage over law firms."So SCOTUS will look at Helsinn v Teva, but as expected Carl M. Burnett v Panasonic Corporation goes nowhere. It's another small victory for us programmers who've long campaigned against software patents and now have 35 U.S.C. ۤ 101. The Office cannot bully judges. It cannot force Justices (at SCOTUS) to challenge 35 U.S.C. ۤ 101. Days ago the USPTO published yet another talk of Iancu. He can moan about 35 U.S.C. ۤ 101 all he wants, but courts won't care.

"Another one bites the Alice dust," wrote this patent maximalist from Watchtroll, linking to an opinionated Watchtroll report about last Monday's decision:

On Monday, December 3rd, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of certiorari in Carl M. Burnett v. Panasonic Corporation, declining to take up the case on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This is now the latest case involving questions of patent-eligibility for an invention under 35 U.S.C. €§ 101 declined by the nation’s highest court. In this case, however, the Supreme Court hasn’t addressed the patentability of the relevant subject matter, namely electronic data and electromagnetic analog and digital signals, since 1853.


SCOTUS has also just rejected SSL Services v Cisco and it's hilarious to see the response from patent extremists who loathe PTAB and love software patents. They're losing their minds as courts gradually restore/impose sanity on the patent system. Here is what Watchtroll said: "On Monday, November 19th, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a list of orders regarding pending cases where the Court refused to take the appeal. The Supreme Court on that day denied the petition for writ of certiorari to take up SSL Services, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc. on appeal from the Federal Circuit. In denying certiorari, the Supreme Court refused to answer whether the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) erred in instituting an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding in the face of federal statute barring institution of an IPR based on similar arguments and prior art raised in a previous validity challenge."

"At the end of the day, when it all boils down to Alice, these patents are still unlikely to withstand judges' scrutiny."Watchtroll can be hilarious in the sense that it has nothing left but judge-bashing and as we'll mention again later, the founder and editor steps down. A month later these people still bring up Ancora v HTC. They're living in the past, cherry-picking rare case outcomes in desperate efforts to somehow revive software patents in US courts. Watchtroll suggests adding "Technical Solutions" and King & Wood Mallesons's Veg Tran and Esme Wong argue you should say “an improvement in the computer”; anything to hopelessly fool examiners and judges into software patents?

At the end of the day, when it all boils down to Alice, these patents are still unlikely to withstand judges' scrutiny. That's just the way it is; there's no point pretending that adding some catchphrases will help as if it's all about words. It's about the underlying claims, not semantics.

"The bottom line is, software patents are bygones; even the lawyers know it, but they still try to attract applicants, i.e. money/legal bills."James Fussell, Nikko Quevada and Vincent Violago, three people who do 'patents' for a living (nothing else actually) say "Alice Must Be Revisited In View Of Emerging Technologies" (published 5 days ago); they just worry they'll become unemployed as they will need to find a real job. They start their articles with a bunch of meaningless buzzwords: "The increasing convergence of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, robotics and other emerging technologies are expected to generate various novel legal issues that courts will soon have to grapple with..."

Yes, "artificial intelligence" or "internet [sic] of things" and so on. Why not add "cloud" and "smart" and other nonsense?

The bottom line is, software patents are bygones; even the lawyers know it, but they still try to attract applicants, i.e. money/legal bills.

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