The ongoing patent dispute between CLS Bank International and Alice Corporation reached U.S. federal appeals court this week. While the impact of these initial arguments may take months to sort out, important precedents could soon be set regarding the scope and validity of software patents in the technology sector at large.
In 2007, CLS Bank preemptively sued patent-only company Alice Corporation in regard to a computerized financial trading platform. While the bank was able to convince a district court that Alice's four related patents were too broad to be valid, the decision was ultimately reversed on appeal. According to Network World, the appeals court has reconvened the two parties for a hearing this week to more broadly explore whether an abstract idea written into software and run on a computer constitutes an original invention.
The case has already inspired amicus briefs from Google, Facebook, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Business Software Alliance and others advocating for everything from complete dismissal of Alice's patent portfolio to narrower limits on what can be claimed in a software inventor's application.
According to open source software veteran and InfoWorld columnist Simon Phipps, the two parties will be asked for ideas on how a court may test whether a computer-implemented invention is a "patent-ineligible abstract idea" and whether it matters if the invention is claimed as a "method, system or storage medium." While these overarching questions may not be answered in one afternoon, the hearing could mark a genuine turning point in how software patents are regarded and assessed in the eyes of the court.