In a move that could change the software world as we know it – likely for the better – power players Facebook, Google and Zynga Games and four other tech companies have asked the courts to reject lawsuits based on patents for vague concepts that don’t outline specific applications. The companies’ amicus brief says that these types of abstract patents raise costs and retard innovation.
The brief was signed by Google, Zynga, Facebook, Dell, Intuit, Homeaway, Rackspace, and Red Hat so it’s not exactly a small portion of the tech community asking for this. The brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in a current case being heard, CLS vs. Alice. CLS claims that Alice’s patents for the vague idea of financial intermediation implemented with a computer aren’t valid. The brief, while being filed in support of the CLS case, was also filed as the case could set precedent for vague patent filings around the industry.
The CLS argument reads, in part: “Many computer-related patent claims just describe an abstract idea at a high level of generality and say to perform it on a computer or over the Internet. Such barebones claims grant exclusive rights over the abstract idea itself, with no limit on how the idea is implemented. Granting patent protection for such claims would impair, not promote, innovation by conferring exclusive rights on those who have not meaningfully innovated, and thereby penalizing those that do later innovate by blocking or taxing their applications of the abstract idea…The abstractness of computer-related patents bears much of the blame for the extraordinarily high litigation and settlement costs associated with such patents. It is, therefore, imperative that courts enforce Section 101? s “screening” function (Mayo, 132 S. Ct. at 1303) early in most cases, to save defendants and the courts from the unnecessary expense of fully litigating or settling cases- like this one that should be dismissed at the outset.”
Google and the others remind the court that it has used four guideposts to previously determine whether a patent has insufficient inventiveness. Those are patents that:
- Add steps that are conventional or obvious
- Add non-specific steps that don’t limit the claim’s scope
- Limit ideas to only to a particular technological environment, like a computer
- Add insufficient information to a claim and don’t specify a specific machine an idea is performed on
The brief says that “abstract patents are a plague in the high tech sector.” All I can say is “Hear here!”