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Supreme Court To Review Software Patents 115

New submitter chrylis writes "SCOTUSblog is reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted an appeal in Alice v. CLS Bank, a case in which the Federal Circuit ruled haphazardly that the particular patents in question were invalid but did not address the issue of software patents generally. 'The case will provide a new test of the Patent Act’s most basic provision — Section 101, which broadly outlines what kinds of inventions are patentable. One of the long-standing exceptions to the types of inventions mentioned in that section is that an abstract idea can never be patented. That issue arises frequently these days, especially with rapidly developing technology in computer software. The EFF wrote a summary of the issues in the case when it was before the Federal Circuit this spring. The case files are also available."
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Supreme Court To Review Software Patents

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  • Great... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by supremebob ( 574732 ) <themejunky@geo c i t i e s . c om> on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:02PM (#45620821) Journal

    I'm so glad that the fate of software patents in the US is being left up to a bunch of old geezers who probably can't figure out how to publish their legal opinions online without the help of their IT department.

  • Re:Expect... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:10PM (#45620885)
    Expect yet another 5-4 ruling in favor of big business.
  • Obviousness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jayfield ( 2317990 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:11PM (#45620895)
    IAAPA (I am a patent agent)- My take on the matter is that software patents pass the threshold for patent eligibility, but not for patentability, which is quite different. Most software-implemented subject matter is certainly patent-eligible, but ought to be struck down under 35 U.S.C. 103 (non-obviousness). Courts have said that 101 is a threshold inquiry, and in my opinion I don't see why slashdotters would have a problem with striking down software patents not because as a class of subject matter they are ineligible, but because the vast majority are obvious.
  • Re:Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonnythan ( 79727 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:17PM (#45620939)

    If these guys were experts in software patents, they wouldn't need anyone to testify.

    Judges are not experts in anything except law. That's why they listen to other people make the case and explain the intricacies as the law applies to the subject. They do their research and they ask tough questions. That's their job.

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:22PM (#45620987) Homepage Journal

    Fuck you very much, NSA.

  • Re:Great... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:27PM (#45621013) Homepage Journal

    And then they vote according to whichever way their ideological predisposition leads them. After that, they direct the clerks to figure out how to justify it, which sometimes requires some stretching but always seems to be possible, especially when you can bury it in a few dozen pages of dense legal text.

    I respect their learning, I really do, but they're called on to answer the cases for which there isn't a straightforward answer. (If there were, the lower courts would have it, and they wouldn't take the case.) They seem to serve, effectively, as tiebreakers, and they generally seem to do so according to their preconceptions rather than by finding novel insights. They don't have to have the most intelligent word, merely the final one.

  • Re:Obviousness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:34PM (#45621045) Journal
    In the 60s and 70s, various companies were developing high-availability software (process pairs, redundant storage, transactions, ACID, etc). Each of them thought they had developed something unique, and as a result tried to hide it from their competitors.

    As a result, progress in the field went a lot slower than it had to, with plenty of reproduced effort. That was in the days before software was eligible for patent, so there is definitely a case to be made that (non-obvious) software patents can be helpful.
  • Re:Obviousness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by skarphace ( 812333 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:47PM (#45621129) Homepage
    Is it still non-obvious when two groups of people come up with the same software?
  • Re:Obviousness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bob_super ( 3391281 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @03:57PM (#45621257)

    Bad example.
    They all got what they wanted through longer effort.
    Under software patents, the first would get there a hair before the others, and somehow believe that the others owe it money because he got there first. It works when your trireme gets to a new land first, because there only one land. But if the others were going to get there and didn't copy you, then there is no reason to claim that they should owe you money for doing something first.

    There should be a test, not for obviousness, but for "natural result of the engineering process under the current environment".

  • more credit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @04:00PM (#45621303)

    I'd give them somewhat more credit than that. They definitely made the right call in Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (ruling that genes couldn't be patented), even though they had no knowledge about biology.

    The fact that they're willing to hear this case makes me somewhat optimistic; if they truly didn't understand or care about software patents, they wouldn't have gotten involved. The worst they can do is maintain the status quo, which is what would happen if they didn't intervene.

  • Re:fuck yes (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 06, 2013 @04:05PM (#45621355)

    I think you're overestimating the current supreme court.

    I'll just ignore your asinine analogy and reply to your first sentence ...

    This court may very well be swayed by political leanings in this case. But that sway may be to uphold the ruling. There are many more businesses that are negatively affected by these shit patents than there are businesses that benefit from them. A conservative court may surprise us by being pro all businesses instead of just a handful.

    Watch this closely as it may become a talking point for the 2014 midterm elections.

  • Re:Obviousness (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 06, 2013 @04:13PM (#45621401)

    Bell Labs got a patent on the setuid bit in Unix way back when (filed 1972, granted 1979) by describing a hardware implementation of it. They then released the patent to the public domain.

    Neither of those things would happen today.

  • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @04:17PM (#45621435) Homepage

    The Voters Rights Act had nothing to do with siding against the little guy! The Court had told Congress before, about a decade ago, that it needed to revisit the issue, and re-examine which areas still had a problem and if there were areas that could have relaxed rules. Congress refused to revisit the issue at all. Congress could have, for example, funded a new study, determined that the sames problems existed in the same places, and renew the old list. But that never happened. Congress refused to take any actual steps to look at where the problem still was, so the Court had no choice but to rule that the current list had to be rejected as dated. You can't just pass different rules for different states forever; if the rules are different, it has to be for real reasons.

    It is pretty sad that Congress couldn't even rubber stamp a new study.

  • Re:Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <VortexCortex.project-retrograde@com> on Friday December 06, 2013 @05:04PM (#45621843)

    I'm so glad that the fate of software patents in the US is being left up to a bunch of old geezers who probably can't figure out how to publish their legal opinions online without the help of their IT department.

    Indeed. I could agree to leave such important things to old troglodytes as long as they were also scientists: "Let us apply the law in this manner provisionally, and re-examine to test the hypothesis of its benefit after N years; We must test a decision to see, and also consider the null hypothesis, for laws that provide no benefit only tax our legal system. Let us rely not on case-law, but on observational evidence of intent to do malice or good."

    Sadly no such individuals exist in this reality. The quantum waveform has collapsed into the worst possible configuration: Scientists beg for funds while stodgy old farts rule the world. Note that there is ZERO evidence that patents and copyrights are actually "beneficial for society", we have only evidence that such protections are not required for innovation and profit in the markets that have no copyright or design patents: The automotive and fashion industries. Software Patents? HA! Prove Patents themselves aren't harmful first. It seems we need a medicine that not even The Doctor can prescribe.

  • Re:Obviousness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @05:36PM (#45622079)
    Software developer's don't read patents. Software patents are only read by lawyers. These patents are legal self gratification.
  • Re:fuck yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday December 06, 2013 @07:06PM (#45622917)

    Really? Because as soon as VP8 was hinted at, and before it was actually released, MPEG LA immediately put out a call to form patent pool to attack it []. BEFORE its specs were even released.

    Does that sound like a group of people simply seeking an easier way to cross-license? Or does it seem like a Troll?

    It took the US DOJ looking into MPEG LA's practices [] before they backed down.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton