The Supreme Court will soon decide the validity of software patents

The U.S. Supreme Court is wading into a messy debate over when software deserves a patent, an issue that is important to big technology companies such as Microsoft and Google, yet has so far flummoxed the federal judiciary. The high court will hear oral arguments Monday in an appeal brought by Alice Corp., whose patents on a computer program to reduce risk in financial transactions were ruled invalid by lower courts.

The US Supreme Court is to delve into the hotly contested question of when software is eligible for patent protection. Later today, nine justices will hear a one-hour oral argument in a case of interest not just to software companies, but also to a wide range of businesses that sell products containing computer-implemented features. Google, Dell, Verizon, Microsoft and HP are among the companies that have filed legal papers weighing in on the issue, although the firms vary over what kind of eligibility threshold they would prefer. Those that often get sued for patent infringement, such as Google, favour a tighter definition, while those that want to protect their own patents, such as IBM, would prefer that most software be patent eligible.

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