Microsoft: Federal Circuit ruling on software patent eligibility strengthens law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit yesterday issued an important decision strengthening the law related to software patent eligibility under Section 101 of the Patent Act. This ruling gives us useful guidance for determining which software innovations qualify for protection and helping provide greater stability to the U.S. patent system, a foundation for our digital economy. Erich Andersen, vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft’s IP (Intellectual Property) Group wrote a blog post expressing his views on this ruling.

  • First the court made clear that patent claims need to be considered as a whole, offering “We have previously cautioned that courts ‘must be careful to avoid oversimplifying the claims’ by looking at them generally and failing to account for the specific requirements of the claims.”
  • Second, the court emphasized that claims may be patent eligible if they represent a technological improvement. Per the opinion, “we therefore look to whether the claims in these patents focus on a specific means or method that improves the relevant technology or are instead directed to a result or effect that itself is the abstract idea …”
  • Third, the court made clear that data processing claims may be eligible even if they produce information rather than a physical product or result. In other words, today’s decision confirmed that there is no requirement of “tangibility.” As stated by the court, “While the result may not be tangible, there is nothing that requires a method “be tied to a machine or transform an article” to be patentable…. The concern underlying the exceptions to § 101 is not tangibility, but preemption.”

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