Posts tagged Patents
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, you cannot legally patent laws of nature, natural phenomena or abstract ideas. Especially if those abstract ideas are a generic implementation of doing something “on a computer.”
In a unanimous decision today, the Supreme Court invalidated a class of software patents that cover what it considers “abstract concepts.” The case, Alice Corporation PTY. LTD. v. CLS Bank International et al., concerned the patenting of a generic concept—a means of enforcing the settlement of debts in a multi-party financial transaction—to be performed on a computer by Alice Corporation. CLS Bank International argued that the patent was invalid because the underlying concept has long been part of finance and economics, and that the only thing new was that Alice performed its settlements using a computer.
Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that no such abstract concept can be turned into a patentable invention simply because someone programs it into a computer. That’s going to have some important consequences for many existing patents, although reform advocates had hoped the high court might use the case to invalidate all software patents.
What Types Of Software The Case Affects
The ruling is fairly narrow in terms of its application but still a giant step in the long-standing campaign for patent reform. But if you think the ruling will stop the patent trolls in their tracks, you have another think coming.
It might be easier to think of it in terms of what the Supreme Court didn’t do. It didn’t invalidate another common class of patents that cover “business methods”—i.e., supposed “inventions” that support new ways of doing business. Three justices believe that business method patents should be invalidated and filed opinions to that effect in the Alice case. In the 2010 case Bilski vs. Kappos, the court ruled 5-4 to leave business method patents untouched.
The Alice decision leaves the open the possibility that more patents covering more complex software that can’t easily be boiled down to simple “abstract” ideas will remain valid.
Who Will Be Affected By Alice Vs. CLS Bank?
There’s a clear set of winners from this decision, at least until the high court issues future rulings on software patents:
Large Technology Companies: Like, say, IBM and Microsoft. Both companies filed briefs supporting the Alice patents because of their own investment in thousands of software patents. Many of those remain untouched by today’s ruling.
Software Patent Defendants: One of the tangential benefits of today’s ruling is that it forces software patents to meet patent-eligibility restrictions described in Section 101 (35 U. S. C. §101) of U.S. patent law. That doesn’t fundamentally change much for patents in general, but it does allow defendants to rely on established legal defenses that can sometimes result in quicker dismissal of patent lawsuits.
Individual Developers: Individual software developers often say that they are against software patents. And that’s easy for most of them to say, as few indie devs have ever filed a patent. Still, the ruling should provide smaller companies and independent developers protection from patent trolls using abstract patents designed to force them to settle out of court or accept licensing terms.
Questions Remaining After Alice vs. CLS Bank
Given that the Supreme Court keeps taking half-measures in patent reform, this will likely not be last time it rules on patent-reform issues.
The court’s opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, declined to define what an abstract patent actually entails. “We need not labor to delimit the precise contours of the ‘abstract ideas’ category in this case,” the opinion stated. So the definition of “abstract” goes back to the lower courts.
Overall volume of patent suits may decline, particularly if patent assertion entities—i.e., trolls—find it harder to clear the “abstract” bar. But that doesn’t mean that these patent troll entities won’t still try to scare smaller companies into settling for smaller claims.
Lead image by Flickr user DonkeyHotey, CC 2.0
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Every once in a while a company comes along that completely changes the world. Google is one such company, making the Internet accessible and meaningful to billions of people. So is Facebook, which increasingly connects those billions of people. And then there’s Apple, which has set the standard for what is possible with mobile devices.
Still, it’s too bad Apple can’t be more like Tesla, the electric car company founded by Elon Musk. Because Tesla, unlike Apple, is determined to share its innovations.
Opening Up Innovation
Up until this past week, Tesla was much like Apple. It sought and hoarded patents, proudly displaying its patents on the wall of its Palo Alto headquarters. But last Thursday, Tesla made a bold move: it open sourced its patents. Every single one of them. The reason? As Musk opined on the company’s blog, sharing innovation is better than stockpiling and suing over it:
Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.
Nor is this some unselfish act whereby Musk plays the part of global benefactor to others’ innovation at the expense of his balance sheet:
At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales….
Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.
In other words, competitors haven’t caught up. They’re hardly in the game, and for Tesla to truly grow, it needs a vibrant, competitive market in which to build and sell its cars. A consumer that starts with a low-end competitor is more likely to then upgrade to Tesla’s premium brand. Hence, as he stresses, the market would benefit, “from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”
As for concerns over losing Tesla’s edge, Musk quashes that notion:
Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.
It’s a brilliant strategic move and it’s one that would be unfathomable a few miles south in Apple’s Cupertino.
The Mobile Patent Quagmire
Mobile computing has been a morass of patent suits and countersuits for years, nicely summarized by PC Mag’s infographic. With so much money at stake, the reasoning goes, of course companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft would engage in IP jockeying to lock in their share.
And, boy, have they ever. Apple, in particular, has been an active instigator of such suits, and has filed more than 350 cases with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office since January 2008. Steve Jobs was the heart and soul of Apple and he once famously accused Google of “grand theft” over Google’s Android operating system and threatened that he was “willing to go to thermonuclear war on this.”
Which is exactly what we’ve seen.
While Apple and Google’s former manufacturing arm Motorola thawed the mobile patent warfare in March, agreeing to drop the suits they’d launched against each other, years were lost while Apple and its competitors fought each other in court.
Since the launch of the original iPhone, we’ve seen different screen sizes, more memory, faster chips and sharper resolution, all resulting in fat profits. But real, groundbreaking innovation equal to Apple’s original touchscreen? Not so much. In fact, in 2013 reports surfaced that Apple’s board was concerned by Apple’s slowed pace of innovation.
There’s a very valid argument that Apple doesn’t need to constantly introduce new products, given how much it earns from existing products. Such earnings are fueled, in part, by the patent-encrusted moat Apple uses to defend its profits. No one can look at Apple’s balance sheet and credibly call it a failure.
Innovation Is The Best Protection
Apple should not be lauded for resting on its patented laurels. As Musk noted last week, “If a company is truly relying on patents it means they aren’t innovating, or not innovating fast enough. You want to be innovating so fast [that] you invalidate your prior patents.”
Tesla is doing this. Apple could, too. Apple regularly wows the world with beautiful, brilliant products. Imagine the innovation we might have seen these past few years if Apple were forcing itself and the entire industry to look forward to new developments rather than constantly cashing in on old achievements. It could be advancing the mobile industry far faster while still plumping its bank balance if it, too, opened up its innovations as Tesla has done.
Tesla’s decision to open its patents isn’t dissimilar from what the open-source software world does. Years ago Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst pointed out that open source business models align customer and vendor interests by forcing vendors to “innovate or die.” In the open-source world, customers only pay for subscriptions when software is constantly being improved. They only pay when their vendors deliver real value.
That may be a scary proposition for Apple, but given its culture of innovation, it is one Cupertino should welcome.
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The tangle of patent litigation between two of the world’s top tech companies appears to have just straightened out: Apple and Google’s Motorola Mobility have agreed to stop suing each other over smartphone technology and “work together in some areas of patent reform,” Reuters reported Friday.
It’s not clear what that means precisely, other than putting a kibosh on all existing lawsuits between the iPhone maker and Android company. That would effectively end roughly 20 cases in the United States and Germany, said a Gigaom source “familiar with the litigation.” Patent lawsuits between Apple and Samsung don’t appear to be affected or influenced by the agreement.
Image by Flickr user Brian Turner
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BrightEdge Uses SEO Patents As “Sword,” Sues Searchmetrics
Search Engine Land
Legal Oh no they didn't: BrightEdge has sued rival Searchmetrics using multiple SEO patents, which were granted last year. The concern being expressed by some today is that this could be the beginning of a wave of litigation as BrightEdge seeks to …
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Oh no they didn’t: BrightEdge has sued rival Searchmetrics using multiple SEO patents, which were granted last year. The concern being expressed by some today is that this could be the beginning of a wave of litigation as BrightEdge seeks to capitalize on its newly granted IP or goes after…
Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.
Your next MacBook might be powered by the sun—at least partially.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has just published 31 new patents to Apple Inc., some of which could lead to the creation of a truly futuristic computer. According to Patently Apple, which examined the multitude of technologies included in just one of the new patents, the next MacBook might be fitted with solar cells, backside touch sensors, and “smart glass.”
According to the patent, Apple could make solar power work by building the laptop’s top plate out of “smart glass,” also known as electrochromic glass. Electrochromic glass changes its light transmission properties in response to voltage, controlling the amount of light (and heat) that it transmits.
Apple’s patent calls for the top plate of a laptop to consist of solar cells sandwiched between a plate of “smart glass” in the back and your regular LCD display in the front. If it works, you could use adjust the smart glass to allow light to transmit to the solar cells in order to charge your battery.
Another noteworthy inclusion in the patent is the addition of backside touch sensors, which could mean touch-based interaction with your laptop even when it’s fully closed. The patent is designed for future MacBooks, but it’s easy to see how touch sensor technology could apply to a number of different Apple products.
The patent also continued to boost Apple’s number of patents regarding a future cellular MacBook, one which would be able to transmit and receive cellular telephone signals. According to Patently Apple, the company has been patenting similar technology since 2012. The newest patent stresses how seriously Apple takes its goal of creating a MacBook that can interact with cell phones, and even make and receive calls from them.
The document notes that Apple originally applied for these patents back in the third quarter of 2010.
Photo by David Blaikie.
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