2014 could be a landmark year for the important question of whether software can be patented, and if so in what situations. After the Federal Circuit issued a highly-fractured non-decision on software patent-eligibility in CLS Bank Int’l v. Alice Corporation Pty Ltd., the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the case.
In the May 2013 decision that is the subject of the appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that certain patent claims covering methods and systems for managing risk merely covered an “abstract idea” and were not patent-eligible. However, as discussed in a previous IP Spotlight post, the opinion gave no clear guidance as to why the claims were not patent-eligible, nor did it explain what types of software claims would be patent-eligible. Although a majority of the judges agreed with the result, no majority agreed upon any particular reasoning. The published decision included seven different opinions. Half of the judges specifically found the system claims to be patent-eligible, and three of the judges asserted that all of the claims were patent-eligible.