The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a controversial software patent case after a federal appeals court ruled that an abstract idea is not patentable simply because it is tied to a computer system.
The May ruling in CLS Bank v. Alice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit could lead to the "death" of software and business method patents, dissenting Judge Kimberly Moore wrote then.
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review the appeals court decision at the request of electronic marketplace Alice, the holder of four patents related to a computerized trading platform for currencies.
In the case, defendant CLS argued that Alice's patents were too abstract to be patentable. A district court agreed, but the appeals court reversed the decision.
The appeals court, however, heard arguments in February to examine whether an abstract idea combined with a computer is patentable, and whether some software patent claims involving methods, systems or storage should be grounds for granting a patent.
Alice's lawyers argued the company's patents covered specific ways a computer is configured to run the company's trading platform, but a majority of the appeals court disagreed.
Critics of the appeals court decision called it confusing, making the ruling ripe for Supreme Court review. Five judges in the 10-judge court sided with the majority opinion, while five other judges concurred in part and dissented in part. In addition to the majority ruling, judges filed five other comments on the case.
Some tech groups asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. The higher court should look at the appeals court decision because it "failed to provide any precedential guidance," wrote lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which wanted the Alice patents invalidated.
Lawyers for Accenture Global Services suggested the appeals court has made "irreconcilable decisions" on software patents in their brief asking the Supreme Court to take the case.
The Alice case, when compared to past rulings by the appeals court, show the "court's ongoing fracturing over the patent eligibility of computer inventions," Accenture lawyers wrote. "Innovators and patent owners are left guessing at the proper standard for patent eligibility of computer inventions in the wake of ... recent Federal Circuit decisions."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.