Supreme Court Smacks Down Federal Circuit

by on April 30, 2007 · 6 comments

The Supreme Court handed down both of the big patent cases today, smacking the Federal Circuit down in each of them. Here is the court’s 9-0 decision in Teleflex that “The Federal Circuit addressed the obviousness question in a narrow, rigid manner that is inconsistent with §103 and this Court’s precedents.” And here is the court’s 7-1 holding in Microsoft v. AT&T that “A copy of Windows, not Windows in the abstract, qualifies as a“component” under §271(f).”

As I predicted, the court did not take the opportunity to rule that software is unpatentable. However, in footnote 13, the majority carefully reserved judgment on whether software could be a component of a patented invention:

We need not address whether software in the abstract, or any other intangible, can ever be a component under §271(f). If an intangible method or process, for instance, qualifies as a “patented invention”under §271(f) (a question as to which we express no opinion), the combinable components of that invention might be intangible as well. The invention before us, however, AT&T’s speech-processing computer, is a tangible thing.

This suggests that the court may be leaving the door open to a direct challenge to the patentability of software in a future case.

Update: Having read the decision more carefully, I think the above isn’t quite right. Footnote 13 was discussing whether software could be a component of an invention for purposes of §271(f), which is a separate question from whether software can be patentable subject matter in the first place. Software could theoretically be patentable in general but not a component of an invention for purposes of §271(f).

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