from the GOTO-patent-invalidation dept
Public Knowledge is back at it, carving holes in dubious software patent claims by distilling supposedly "complex" ideas into a minimal amount of code. Late last year, Public Knowledge filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit involving Ultramercial, whose disputed patent basically involved appending "on the internet" to a very basic idea.
In that case, "watching a video on the internet" had been turned into a 349-word, 11-step process that convinced the patent reviewer the process was somehow protectable. Charles Duan of Public Knowledge took that word salad and converted it into 16 lines of code, poking rather large holes in Ultramercial's inflated description.
Duan has done it again. In an amicus brief filed on behalf of CLS Bank, Public Knowledge explains that Alice Corp.'s patent claims cover a very general and obvious abstract idea: the exchange of funds via a third party.
Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International concerns a group of patents on third-party escrow, an age-old technique where two people exchange money through a third party. It’s what most people use to buy a house. It’s PayPal.So, how did Alice Corp. get this patent? By adding a few words to the idea: "done by a computer." Of course, to get protection for an abstract (and simple) idea, you have to use considerably more words than that. Here's the description, which makes it sound much more impressive than it actually is.
Obviously, no one can get a patent on escrow. Abstract ideas (like escrow) can’t be patented. Why not? Because ideas are the starting point for every new business, technology, and product. Patents on ideas would squash innovation. As the Supreme Court explained in another recent case, ideas are the “basic tools of scientific and technological work,” and a patent on an idea “might tend to impede innovation more than it would tend to promote it.”
a computer, coupled to said data storage unit and said communications controller, that is configured to…Here's Charles Duan's reduction of that process, in BASIC no less:
(b) electronically adjust said first account and said third account in order to effect an exchange obligation arising from said transaction between said first party and said second party after ensuring that said first party and/or said second party have adequate value in said first account and/or said third account, respectively.
10 LET account1 = 200.00Now, extremely efficient code isn't always the sign of a simple process, but patenting an age-old abstract idea like escrow is, first of all, something that (theoretically) isn't allowed by our patent process. Adding "with a computer" doesn't suddenly turn a non-patentable idea into protectable IP… or at least it shouldn't. But as Ultramercial proved, abstract ideas can and do become prime patent troll properties. As Anna Sallstrom of Public Knowledge notes, granting dressed-up ideas patent protection is nothing more than "trading progress for abstract patents." Hopefully, the Supreme Court will see Alice Corp.'s claims for what they are: escrow + a computer.
20 LET account3 = 300.00
30 INPUT “Value to exchange for transaction”; exchange
40 IF account1 < exchange THEN PRINT “Inadequate value”: STOP
50 account1 = account1 – exchange
60 account3 = account3 + exchange
70 PRINT “Instruction to 1st institution: adjust 2nd account by ”; -exchange