But just this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard a case that could have a broad impact on software patents. In the case, CLS Bank v. Alice Corp., the court is considering whether companies should be able to get patents on abstract ideas when they combine those ideas with a computer process.
Developing complex enterprise-level software takes time and money, and patents help protect that investment, Daley said. "In today's environments, where hundreds of thousands of apps are just a click away on all of our mobile devices, it's pretty easy to see how some assume that software development is easy," she said. "I'm here to tell you it's not. It requires highly skilled engineers and incredible investments."
Oracle spent US$4.5 billion on research and development in 2012, she said, and a weakening of software patents would hurt the company, its investors and customers.
Software patents aren't just important to IT companies but also to Procter & Gamble, the large maker of household goods, said Thomas Lange, director of modeling and simulation in the R&D division of the company. Lange's division uses computer modeling to help Procter & Gamble design toilet paper that tears correctly, diapers that leak less and laundry soap containers that don't break when dropped, he said.
The company uses software to design products and to manufacture them in automated factories, he said.
"Innovation is our lifeblood," Lange said.
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 e-mail address is email@example.com.