By Dennis Crouch
50-years on, we still don’t have the answer as to whether computer programs are patentable.
The Supreme Court has granted a writ of certiorari in the software patent case of ALICE CORPORATION PTY. LTD. V. CLS BANK INTERNATIONAL, ET AL., Docket No. 13-298 (Supreme Court 2013). The Australian patent holder Alice Corp presented the following question:
Issue: Whether claims to computer-implemented inventions – including claims to systems and machines, processes, and items of manufacture – are directed to patent-eligible subject matter within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 101 as interpreted by this Court.
In a highly fractured en banc decision, the Federal Circuit determined that Alice Corp’s claims lacked eligibility. Because none of the opinions in the decision carried a majority, the result was that the Federal Circuit only added confusion to the area.
Alice Corp’s Patent No. 7,725,375 covers software for managing the risk associated with an online transaction essentially by using an electronic escrow service. Claim 26 recites how the system would work:
26. A data processing system to enable the exchange of an obligation between parties, the system comprising:
a communications controller,
a first party device, coupled to said communications controller,
a data storage unit having stored therein (a) information about a first account for a first party, independent from a second account maintained by a first exchange institution, and (b) information about a third account for a second party, independent from a fourth account maintained by a second exchange institution; and
a computer, coupled to said data storage unit and said communications controller, that is configured to (a) receive a transaction from said first party device via said communications controller; (b) electronically adjust said first account and said third account in order to effect an exchange obligation arising from said transaction between said first party and said second party after ensuring that said first party and/or said second party have adequate value in said first account and/or said third account, respectively; and (c) generate an instruction to said first exchange institution and/or said second exchange institution to adjust said second account and/or said fourth account in accordance with the adjustment of said first account and/or said third account, wherein said instruction being an irrevocable, time invariant obligation placed on said first exchange institution and/or said second exchange institution.
The patent also claims “a computer program” for accomplishing the same result.