Supreme Court to Decide on Software Patents

Supreme Court to decide on patentability of software

Anyone with a career in information technology, or who is aspiring to earn an IT degree, will want to keep a close eye on a big debate going on in the United States Supreme Court. On December 6, 2013, the Court announced its intention to answer the question of computer software patentability, and its ultimate ruling will have a wide ranging impact on the IT industry.

Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank
The cornerstone of the debate is the suit between Alice Corporation and CLS Bank. On the surface of the argument is the claim that whatever is within the laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas is explicitly excluded from patentability, and therefore all patent laws. Many of the Court's justices are known for settling patent disputes in favor of the patent-holder. This time, they are convening to determine whether or not attaching an abstract idea to an otherwise tangible device makes the idea patentable.

Justice Alan Lourie and four other justices of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Federal Circuit have agreed on this matter. However, the appeals court has not been able to formulate a fool-proof test to determine the patentability of a device when it comes with non-patentable software.

Other issues raised
Some judges see this as a potential catastrophic blow to the software industry. In a written statement, Judge Moore of the U.S. Court of Appeals said that passing a judgment like Lourie's would put the industry into a free fall.

"Let's be clear: if all of these claims, including the system claims, are not patent-eligible, this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents," Moore said.

Law professor Mark Lemley of Stanford University asserts that many patents today use functional claims, and rewording the claims made in the software patent suit can solve everybody's problems. In an interview he gave to Infoworld.com, Lemley said that if the Supreme Court could find that a computer is not a device in the traditional sense, then they could determine that a specific computer device can be made to be used with a particular software, thus making it patentable.

Support from the IT community
IT professionals in America should be concerned about the results of the ruling. If software remains outside patent laws, independent software developers will not have to compete with multi-national corporations. It won't matter how much capital is behind a project, if the software works and is easy to use, it will can be available for the entire world to use. The flow of information will remain unrestricted and access to programs will stay relatively inexpensive. IT specialists will also have less difficulty operating between various software platforms.

This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers bachelor's and master's online degree programs in IT. To find out more, please visit www.wgu.edu/wisecareers_IT.

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