Too bad it’s structured so narrowly — the real question is what we were thinking when business method and software patents were created: Justices Will Hear Patent Case Against eBay
The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in a protracted, closely watched patent case that pits a small company called MercExchange against eBay, the online auction and marketplace.
While the grounds in the case appear narrow â€” the court will reconsider the rules under which courts grant injunctions against a company found to be infringing another’s patent â€” it has attracted enormous attention because of the public rancor between the two companies, the supporters enlisted by both sides and the growing issue of how large technology companies deal with the constant threat of patent challenges.
The patent in question surrounds the “Buy It Now” feature that eBay uses to allow processing of transactions for the Web site’s fixed-price purchasing option.
The Supreme Court will decide whether a federal appeals court was correct in reversing a district court’s decision to deny an injunction against eBay’s use of the feature. In doing so, it will reconsider a precedent from 1908, which suggested that injunctions were always an appropriate remedy for patent infringement.
[…] The case has attracted an unusual amount of public attention in part because of recent attempts by large corporations to change patent law to lessen the threat posed by so-called nonpracticing patent holders.
“Large companies like Microsoft and Intel get hit by weekly patent infringement suits, the majority from smaller entities who may not be practicing the inventions,” said Dennis Crouch, a patent attorney in Chicago who has been following the MercExchange case closely. “The big guns behind eBay are trying to weaken the power of a patent and lessen the ability of a patent holder to obtain an injunction.”
In his decision to withhold the injunction, the district court judge noted that MercExchange “exists solely to license its patents or sue to enforce its patents, and not to develop or commercialize them.”
NYTimes OpEd: Editorial: EBay at the Bar
More broadly, granting MercExchange an injunction is not in the public interest. The patent office has been too willing to grant patents, especially technology patents, when applicants attempt to stake a legal claim on some basic process or relationship rather than on a genuinely new innovation. If the courts now give patent holders the right to nearly automatic injunctions against companies that infringe patents, patent holders will have the power to extract windfall payments from companies that are caught in their nets.
That would ultimately be bad not just for the companies, but for all of us. The Internet, and scientific progress in general, would suffer if abusive patent litigation was allowed to sap the resources of entrepreneurs and discourage innovation. If a patent has been infringed, courts can make the infringer pay up without bringing parts of the Internet and the technology world to a halt.
From Wired News: eBay Heads To High Court; Slashdot: U.S. Supreme Court Hears eBay Case Wednesday