February 22, 2007

Software; Patentable? How Thoroughly? [2:56 pm]

Court Takes on Software Patents - pdf

At issue is whether Microsoft can be held liable for violating an AT&T patent on technology that condenses speech into computer code, similar to that found on Microsoft’s Windows program.

Microsoft admitted it infringed the AT&T patent on computers sold domestically but contends that it is not liable for its programs installed by computer manufacturers overseas.

In 1984, Congress amended the patent law to forbid companies from shipping components of patented inventions overseas and having the parts assembled elsewhere in an attempt to skirt patent laws.

So in this case, justices are looking at whether digital software code can be considered a “component” of a patented invention and if so, whether it was “supplied” from the United States.

[...] The justices wrestled with whether computer code would be patented or whether the code alone could be a component.

[AT&T's lawyer Seth] Waxman said code is “dynamic,” in that it causes a computer to take action, while [Microsoft's lawyer Ted] Olson said it was more like a blueprint. It can be used to produce exact copies that are not patent infringements, he said, like instructions for building a car or a mousetrap.

A copy of the transcript of the oral argument

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