Supreme Court Orders Reconsideration Of 'On The Internet' Software Patents

from the getting-warmer... dept

We've been following the "Ultramercial" case for a while. This was about a company that got a patent (7,346,545 that is basically about requiring you to watch an ad before you can watch some content). Ultramercial sued Hulu, YouTube and WildTangent. The case bounced around the court system for a while, with some using the Bilski ruling to reject the patent as an "abstract idea." However, CAFC (the appeals court that handles patent appeals and always seems to have a soft spot for patents) said the concept was perfectly fine. In reading through the details, CAFC's explanation was basically that since the patent described doing this abstract idea "on the internet," suddenly it became patentable. Back in March, we wrote about WildTangent's appeal to the Supreme Court, which pointed out the ridiculousness of saying that as long as you add "on the internet" to an abstract idea that it suddenly becomes patentable.

While it felt like there was a good chance that the Supreme Court would hear the case, there was one other interesting development that happened a week later: the Supreme Court smartly rejected broad patents on medical diagnostics in the Prometheus Laboratories v. Mayo Labs case, noting that such patents are on unpatentable subject matter. Specifically, the ruling held that "A patent, for example, could not simply recite a law of nature and then add the instruction 'apply the law.'"

Many people expected the Supreme Court to use this ruling to get CAFC to reconsider its Myriad ruling that allowed gene patents -- which it did. But the big news coming out this week was that the Supreme Court has accepted the appeal of the Ultramercial case by vacating CAFC's ruling and asking it to reconsider the Ultramercial case in light of the Prometheus ruling:
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted [G]. The judgment is vacated [V], and the case is remanded [R] to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for further consideration in light of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. ___ (2012).
This actually makes a lot of sense. The Prometheus ruling makes clear that saying "general idea + apply this idea" is not patentable subject matter. And yet, CAFC's ruling in the Ultramercial case basically said the opposite, noting that "general idea + apply this idea on the internet" is patentable subject matter. So, once again, it appears that CAFC's completely out of touch view of the patent system is getting smacked down by the Supreme Court. CAFC now has these two more chances to get it right and to stop slobbering all over ridiculous expansions of the patent system. Hopefully CAFC gets it right the second time around, and the ruling in Ultramercial is useful in limiting ridiculously overbroad software patents.
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Filed Under: bilski, cafc, scotus, software patents
Companies: hulu, ultramercial, wildtangent, youtube

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  1. icon
    A Guy (profile), 22 May 2012 @ 1:15pm

    Sweet, Sweet, Sanity

    They better be careful. I'm starting to think the judiciary may not always be completely out of touch and useless anymore.

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