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August 23, 2005

One way to limit the scope of software patents

I/P Updates reports on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in a software patent case, Harris Corporation v. Ericcson, Inc. Read the summary at I/P Updates if you are a patent lawyer. If you aren't, and at the risk of overgeneralizing, the gist of the opinion is that if you write a software patent that describes a particular algorithm for performing a function, and you write the claims in your patent in a way that attempts to broadly cover any algorithm that performs the same function, you won't succeed. Instead, your claim will be interpreted to cover only the specific algorithm that you described in the patent.

Those who oppose software patents on the grounds that they provide legal protection that is overly broad should pay attention to this decision. There are several ways to protect against the problems caused by overly broad patents. One that is often cited is to ensure that good sources of prior art exist and that the Patent Office and litigants have easy access to those sources. Another, often overlooked outside of the patent bar, is for courts to develop appropriate rules for limiting the scope of claims in individual patents. I advocated for the further development of such rules in software patent cases in this paper (see Section V.C.2), and for the reasons provided therein I think more decisions like the one in the Harris case would be a good thing.

Posted by Robert at August 23, 2005 6:59 PM
category: Software Patents

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