The landscape for software patents changed drastically in 2014, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that inventions directed only to “abstract ideas” were not eligible for patenting. This made it more difficult to enforce and obtain patents directed toward software inventions. Following that decision, the courts have invalidated many patents as abstract, but have been reluctant to precisely define a cohesive standard for determining patent eligibility. This has left practitioners and patentees without adequate guidance on how best to enforce and protect software inventions.
On April 30th, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a precedential opinion, Uniloc USA, Inc. v. LG electronics USA, Inc., addressing this issue. The opinion reversed and remanded a decision of the lower court that dismissed the action. The district court ruled the Uniloc patent was not eligible for patenting because it was directed only to an abstract idea. The Federal Circuit disagreed, finding the patent was not directed to an abstract idea but rather directed to a patent-eligible improvement to computer functionality, namely, the reduction of latency experienced in certain communications systems. The case was argued for Uniloc by Prince Lobel Partner Jim Foster.
In the decision, the Federal Circuit found the invention changed the normal operation of certain communication systems by overcoming a problem arising in the realm of computer networks, thus enabling the systems to accommodate additional devices without compromising performance. This decision is a win for all businesses that hold valuable software patents, and provides greater clarity into the framework for determining patent eligibility.
For more information on this decision or other IP issues, please contact Intellectual Property Practice Group chair, Bob Gilman (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jim Foster (email@example.com).