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For the last few decades, corporations ranging from startups to large multinationals first turned to utility patents to protect their innovative software. These patents protected everything from the minute details of microprocessor operation (e.g., Intel’s microprocessor power consumption patent) to algorithms for a search engine (e.g.Google/Stanford’s page rank patent) to innovative user interfaces (e.g.,Amazon’s “one-click” patent). In fact, by 2011, patents on software made up more than half of all patents being issued.

See the August 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office on Intellectual Property here.

The Supreme Court’s June 2014 ruling in Alice v. CLS Bank calls into question the eligibility for patent protection of these issued utility patents on computer software, and is a barrier to future applications on computer software.  Alice and its progeny compel software developers to look beyond patents to protect their intellectual property.  What are these alternatives?  When and how can they be used?
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chiwulff.com via googleimages

OIP Technologies v. Amazon.com and IPC v. Active Network are the most recent of a growing number of decisions dismissing software and business method patent lawsuits on the pleadings. In these decisions, the courts are finding that the invention alleged in the complaint is an abstract idea that is not eligible for patent protection.

While early resolution of patent litigation is laudable, motions directed to the pleadings generally may not consider matters outside what is pled in the complaint. Yet this is what courts are doing — they have been coloring outside the lines when deciding whether a patented software or business method is an ineligible abstraction.  They are looking beyond the allegations in the complaint to discern “fundamental economic concepts.”  Independent of anything pled in the complaint, they are making historical observations about alleged longstanding commercial practices and deciding whether the claimed invention is analogous to such practices.

Coloring outside the lines may not be acceptable.  The benefit of providing an early exit from otherwise expensive and burdensome patent litigation may be outweighed by the prejudice to all parties of eroding the rules regarding the matters that may be considered before throwing out a lawsuit. Perhaps there is a better solution. Perhaps pleading motions challenging patent subject matter eligibility should be converted to expedited and limited scope summary judgment motions, thereby allowing the parties to present declarations, testimony and other extrinsic evidence that better address whether a claimed economic practice is an unpatentable idea or a patentable invention.
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