Monday, December 09, 2013

Can computer programs that implement mathematical formulas be patented? SCOTUS will revisit

The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear an appeal on a case and decide whether computer software and code can normally be patented.  This sounds like something of existential importance to many companies.  The Supreme Court Blog calls this an “analytical method implemented by a computer or by a link on the Internet, entry here. The case will be Alice Corporation Pty Ltd v. CLS Bank International.
The Washington Post Switch blog, in a piece Saturday by Timothy B. Lee, mentions older Supreme Court decisions that mathematical algorithms are not eligible for patent protection on themselves.  But circuit courts and then appeals courts have ruled that code that implements algorithms could be patented. The link is here. Lee points out that most of the patents subject to trolling have been software patents.  

This reminds me of my first job, at RCA Labs in Princeton and then Indianapolis, in 1970, when we tried to code a “dynamic programming” model for an operations research problem having to do with production lines, in FORTRAN.  Machine power on the Spectra at that time was capable of running the solution.  But the theoretical legal question could have been interesting, if that code itself could have been “patented”.  

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