updated 01:09 pm EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
Relatively minor suit could set the stage for patent law's future
For the first time in over three decades, the US Supreme Court is hearing significant arguments on whether "computer-implemented inventions," otherwise known as software, can be patented. The debate will center around what qualifies for a patent, centering on a debate about a computer system used to handle financial transactions, evaluating risks of default. Despite the suit itself being relatively small, the ruling will set precent for patent law for decades to come.
Google and Microsoft are strongly opposed to the explosion of patents in the US system. In one of 40 filings about the arguments today, Google claims that "a plague of abstract computer-related patents is impairing and taxing innovation." Google (and other vendors using Google-developed Android) continue to face a battery of patent lawsuits worldwide, and critics say its opposition to software patents is hypocritical, given that its Motorola Mobility division has engaged in endless aggressive patent licensing attacks.
President Victoria Espinel of advocacy group The Software Alliance believes the case is is a golden opportunity for the Supreme Court to "give some guidance and some clarity" to the nation's confused patent system. In 1980, at the dawn of software patents, the US issued 2,000 patents. In 2013, 40,000 software patents were issued. In 2012, 5,000 software-related lawsuits clogged the court system, and accounted for more than half of the patent lawsuits filed.
Oral arguments about the issue are scheduled for today. A formal ruling may not come until the end of June.