Bonum Certa Men Certa

Alice Continues to Eliminate Software Patents in the United States and Even Microsoft Beats Some

Summary: An overview of some very recent cases involving software patents and situations in which the US Supreme Court's stance helps squash them

THE US Supreme Court's ruling on Alice is the best thing that ever happened regarding software patents as far as Techrights is concerned. It helped stop software patents (or significantly slow them down). The 2014 ruling exceeded our expectations in the sense that its breadth touched CAFC as well (CAFC is where software patents were originally 'born'). Every week we learn of new cases in which Alice helps crush software patents, sending a warning sign to anyone who considers patenting software or wants to sue a company using software patents.

"I think the Supreme Court is going to be pretty sick of Apple by the end of this year," wrote this person the other day. "Apple v Samsung also may be heard by the justices," based on this update from SCOTUS blog. Apple apparently cannot effectively compete without suing companies using software patents and design patents, which typically resemble software patents. According to this, "Samsung v. Apple appeal to the Supreme Court: petition & response are now available."

Patently-O, a reasonably reliable source of information on these matters, has just published a useful list of SCOTUS cases regarding patents. Will SCOTUS set even a stronger precedence regarding software patents?

According to this update, "US Pat 7,072,849, Network Comm Patent Survived Alice Attack in DE" (one of the few cases where Alice does not work in eliminating software patents). Contrariwise, according to lawyers' media (published a few days ago), "The Supreme Court’s Decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Has Taken a Heavy Toll on Patents for Computer-Related Inventions" (even patent lawyers admit the undeniable impact on software patents). To quote the opening paragraph: "The patent statue broadly defines patent-eligible subject matter as “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter” and any improvements. But inventors cannot patent laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas. The prohibition on patenting abstract ideas has caused federal courts to declare hundreds of patents for computer-related inventions invalid since the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank. After Alice, about 70% of challenges for failure to claim patent-eligible subject matter have succeeded."

The key part is in that last sentence. We saw even worse estimates, e.g. with over 90% courtesy of Bilski Blog. John R. Harris, a patent lawyer, noted that: "Other law firm agrees that Alice decision taken heavy toll on patents for computer-related technologies" (more specifically, software patents).

The other day another lawyers' site wrote: "The patent attorney often faces the problem that broad claims for a class can be rejected when prior art surfaces for one of the members of the class. One strategy is to exclude those members of the class found in the prior art, and to claim the rest of the class."

Notice how patent lawyers basically tend to work, always looking for loopholes when applying for patents and suing. Here are the patent maximalists that the EPO funds saying (just a few days ago): "Two years ago the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for attacks on computer-implemented inventions in Alice Corp Pty, Ltd v CLS Bank International. The Supreme Court set out a "two-step framework" for determining whether patents are claiming laws of nature, natural phenomena or abstract ideas, as opposed to patent-eligible applications of those concepts. Under the first step, courts must determine whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent ineligible concept, such as an abstract idea. If so, the courts must look for an "inventive concept" – that is, an element or combination of elements sufficient to ensure the patent amounts to significantly more than the abstract idea or ineligible concept itself.

"Mortgage Grader joins the post-Alice wave of cases invalidating computer-implemented inventions in various forms. The court agreed that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of "anonymous loan shopping", and that the claims as a whole recited nothing more than the collection of information to generate a "credit grading" and facilitate anonymous loan shopping. In particular, the court noted that the series of steps covered by the asserted claims could all be performed by humans without a computer."

The noteworthy thing right here is that a lot of the worst maximalists out there have come to grips with the fact that Alice is a game changer. There's no point denying that as anyone who does deny it simply discredits himself or herself. To IP Watchdog's credit, it did foresee the impact of Alice early on (shortly after SCOTUS had published the ruling), despite dissent from fellow patent maximalists. It wasn't long afterwards that even the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) reinforced the precedence set by SCOTUS and software patents dropped like flies.

Speaking of CAFC, Secure Web has just lost to Microsoft, as this new post written by patent lawyer indicated the other day. It's a win for Microsoft, but a loss for software patents, which Microsoft so heavily relies on. It turns out, based on this article, that the two software patents were aimed at Microsoft's worse spyware (in some regards Skype is the worst). To quote WIPR: "Microsoft’s Skype computer program did not infringe two patents related to data encryption, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled.

"Yesterday, February 17, the federal circuit said the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas correctly constructed the claims in two patents asserted by technology company Secure Web Conference."

In a sense, for a change, we are happy that Microsoft won this court case as it serves to show that software patents are a dying thing, or a bubble that's busting, even in the Eastern District of Texas, patent trolls' capital.

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