The Supreme Court has unanimously struck down a software patent that everyone agreed was terrible

June 19, 2014

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that you can't get a software patent on a general business method just by claiming you've figured out how to do it on a computer.

If this sounds obvious, the Court agrees. Something like holding money in escrow until both sides of a negotiation follow through on their commitments is a practice that's existed for hundreds of years. You can't patent that idea on its own because it's too abstract; adding "do it on a computer" doesn't make it any less so, according to the Court.

"An instruction to apply the abstract idea of intermediated settlement using some unspecified, generic computer is not 'enough' to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention," the decision reads.

This outcome was largely expected; experts watching the case generally agree that the patent held by Australian company Alice Corp. was a bad patent and should be invalidated. But the bigger question is what this case means for software patents more generally.

We're still reading through the opinion, but it's embedded below. Stay tuned for more.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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