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Goodbye stupid software patents?

Mark Gibbs | June 23, 2014
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alice v. CLS Bank could make many of the ridiculous business-method and software patents invalid ... eventually.

If you haven't been following this story it may (hopefully) turn out to be a milestone in the history of software patents: The story concerns a US financial institution, CLS Bank, and an Australian software company that holds a patent on software used to mediate escrow for financial transactions. CLS argued that the process of escrow is centuries old and therefore not patentable while Alice argued that computerizing the process met the criteria for patentability.

The case went before the US Supreme Court and this week it was adjudged that the patent was invalid. Yayy! The ruling was, however, a narrow one as it wasn't expanded so as to cover anything other than  the case in hand. Boo.

For excellent and more detailed coverage of the case see Grant Goss's article Supreme Court could limit software patents in Alice case.

The issue of software patents has been dear to me for a long time and no patent brought the insanity of software patents into sharper focus than Amazon's 1-Click patent:

1-Click, also called one-click or one-click buying, is the technique of allowing customers to make online purchases with a single click, with the payment information needed to complete the purchase already entered by the user previously. More particularly, it allows an online shopper using an internet marketplace to purchase an item without having to use shopping cart software. Instead of manually inputting billing and shipping information for a purchase, a user can use one-click buying to use a predefined address and credit card number to purchase one or more items. (Wikipedia)

Yep, it's a button that performs an obvious function. There's no magic to it, it's not original, it's just a button.

A criterion for patentability in most countries is that the invention must be non-obvious to one skilled in the art. For example, in the US:

A patent for a claimed invention may not be obtained ... if the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art are such that the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious before the effective filing date of the claimed invention to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains. (USPTO 35 U.S.C. 103)

When you consider a feature like 1-Click you have wonder how any professional (one skilled in the art) in the computer world wouldn't think that the concept was obvious. Indeed I think it's so obvious that it would require someone with the mind of a patent lawyer to even consider patenting something so staggeringly obvious as 1-Click.

So it was that when I heard about Alice v. CLS Bank I sought the advice of lawyers; specifically the fine people at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, a very large law firm headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with over 500 lawyers and a similar number of staff located in 19 offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Jennifer Spaith, a partner, commented:


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