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Communications of the ACM

Legally speaking

Software Patents Are Falling Down

Software Patents Are Falling Down, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

In Alice v. CLS Bank, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a computer-implemented method and system for facilitating settlements of financial transactions was unpatentable subject matter as an abstract idea. In the year or so since that June 2014 decision, many computer-implemented and other software-related patents have been struck down. Moreover, patent infringement lawsuits dropped by 13% in 2014, which a PricewaterhouseCoopers 2015 Patent Litigation Study reports lowered the value of software patent assertions that may be a result of the Alice decision. Litigating software patents is now a much riskier proposition for plaintiffs than in the past.

This column discusses the background to the Alice decision and the Court's new test for patentable subject matter. It then gives examples of software-related patents that have been invalidated on subject matter grounds when tested in litigation. Some software patents may survive subject matter challenges, but still be at risk of invalidation as indefinite after the Federal Circuit's ruling in Williamson v. Citrix.


K.R. Chowdhary

Falling down of software patents is good sign for progress, since now small vendors can also supply the software for big causes, at economical prices, and need not to worry if their software is infringement to any existing one. This would lower the cost of software, and make the systems more economical and better affordable.

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