Software: Patent Claim

We decided to answer the question that often arises whether your software qualifies for a patent claim.

Does Your Software Qualify for a Patent Claim?

Alice Corporation Versus CLS Bank International

In Alice Corporation versus CLS Bank International, Alice claimed to own patents covering electronic methods for financial trading systems. She argued that where two parties were to exchange payment, a third party was to pay the settlement so as to reduce any risk associated with the payment plan. Alice later on alleged that CLS Bank began to use the same idea in their technology systems which were an act of infringement against her patent rights. The two parties did not come to an immediate solution, resulting in the dispute carrying on. CLS Bank later filed a suit against Alice, where Alice still claimed that there was infringement.

The court declared Alice’s patents as invalid since the allegation was an abstract idea. The court made it clear that any idea brought forward with an aim to reduce risk in settlements and business negotiations whether in writing or by computer systems were general and vague. Any individual can come up with such software or an idea to get the best out of the business deal. A computer system programmed to execute such an abstract idea is therefore not patentable. The district court relied on an earlier precedent in a case by Bilski versus Kappos. Bilski claimed that there were business methods that were patentable which could hedge against price fluctuations. The court ruled that such claims would promote monopolization, hence were not patentable.

Alice later appealed to the court of appeal, but yet again, the court upheld the earlier verdict. It also raised questions as to whether a computer-implemented invention is patent legible. From the time of the ruling of Alice’s case, reports indicate a reduction of patents applied for in business ideas and software. Some guidelines emerged that are necessary for any individual looking to get patents for their inventions as discussed below.

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Factors to Consider for Patent Claims

These factors include, identify the abstract idea or main concept to the claim. The second step is that one also needs to identify if the claim precedes the abstract idea. In so doing, one can determine where a patent would come in handy. In analyzing the two mentioned factors, one should identify if the claim fits with any of the four core classes, mainly a process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter. The third determinant is ensuring that one can identify the fundamental concept in the claim and whether the idea is at risk.  In the final step, one needs to determine if the inventive aspect has enough contribution. The contribution should be narrow and specific, rather than a general idea wrapped up in the abstract and should also be a new idea.

A patent claim needs to be limited to a particular application; hence Alice’s patent would have been ruled in her favor if she would have presented the case in a much narrower perspective. A claim as a whole is rendered invalid as the case with Alice since her defense focused on reducing any settlement risk rather than her computer application. For one to get a patent in such a case, there needs to be something extra in the claim. There needs to be a creative aspect to it. Distinct and shared conventional ideas are not patentable.

Some non-patentable ideas are inclusive of the general ideas like a small instruction to the computer. The second is stating an abstract idea and adding the words apply it to a computer software. Abstract algorithms also fall here, indicating that even specific instructions to abstract ideas do not qualify for patents.

The court, however, has no formal ruling for any software developments and any new invention needs to be narrow and focus based, targeting a particular and new design rather than an addition. Therefore, if one needs to have a patent to protect their property, it needs to be one of significant value and possessing an inventive edge rather than a general abstract idea. Each needs to do thorough research and identify if their new approach refers to a present invention or if it is the only one of its kind. In so doing, one can save themselves huge losses and ugly court battles that cause massive disappointment. Patents ensure that one can claim their ideas and prohibit other interested parties from having a claim on them. Originality is therefore paramount.