You can't patent just an idea, supreme court rules again

19 June 2014 by Steve Blum
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The Air Force can now defend Earth without fear of trolls.

Doing the job that the patent office should have done in the first place, the U.S. supreme court stepped up to the plate and swatted down a long line of patent trolls. In an unanimous opinion issued today and written by justice Clarence Thomas, the court said that an Australian company, Alice Corporation, can’t take a common, centuries (millennia?) old financial practice – using a middleman to keep both parties honest – and claim a patent on it just because it’s being done on a computer…

There is no dispute that a computer is a tangible system…or that many computer-implemented claims are formally addressed to patent-eligible subject matter. But if that were the end of [it, a patent] applicant could claim any principle of the physical or social sciences by reciting a computer system configured to implement the relevant concept. Such a result would make the determination of patent eligibility “depend simply on the draftsman’s art,”… thereby eviscerating the rule that “‘[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable’ ”.

Alice sued a foreign exchange company, CLS Corporation, because it had the obviously insane idea of doing its work on a computer without asking permission.

That’s the essence of what the worst patent trolls do: take a common idea or process, and use a computer to implement it. Then, they either find an existing patent that sorta talks about something similar or they submit an impressive looking but more or less impenetrable patent application and wait for the federal patent office to rubber stamp it. At that point, it’s a hunting license to prey on companies or, even, consumers who will pay a substantial but affordable sum upfront, fearing the expense of defending a law suit or the risk of losing.

The supreme court keeps kicking these shysters out the door, and we should be glad they do, but the real problem is congress won’t do anything to endanger the cash that the predatory bar showers on it and the patent office doesn’t have the smarts to know when it’s being snowed.