Software Patents on Trial at Supreme Court

Ruling could nullify existing patents

With the tech industry looking on, the Supreme Court today will explore what types of inventions should be eligible for a patent in a pivotal case that could undermine such legal protections for software.

A ruling that sides with the Patent Office could bar patents on processes and methods of doing business, such as online shopping techniques, medical diagnostic tests and procedures for executing trades on Wall Street. And it might even undercut patents on software.

In a worst-case scenario for the high-tech industry, the ruling could invalidate many existing software patents or at least make them more difficult to defend in lawsuits. And it could make such patents harder to obtain in the future because software is generally patented as a process for doing something rather than as a physical invention.

“Technology companies care about this case, because it will define what you can and cannot get a patent on,” said Emery Simon, counselor to the Business Software Alliance, which represents large technology companies, including Microsoft and Intel.

It’s impossible to know what products might never have come to market without patent protection for software. But tech companies say these patents have played a critical role in keeping the U.S. at the cutting edge by giving people control over their inventions for nearly 20 years.

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