The other day we showed you an Infographic the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) made concerning the harm that the current patent system in the United States. Today we'll tell you what the advocacy group is doing about it on the legal front.
The EFF has joined forces with the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), and open source operating system software company Red Hat to ask the US Supreme Court to provide better guidelines on the patents that relate to software and computer-based inventions. They want the highest court in the land to clarify the definition of when an idea becomes too abstract to be patented. They argue collectively that current federal legislation is inconsistent, confusing, and impedes innovation.
The case they have attached themselves to involves Ultramercial, who sued streaming video company Hulu and game portal WildTangent. The California company who specializes in online advertising claims that these two companies violated the patent it holds – US patent number 7,346,545.
This patent refers to a method for displaying ads before copyrighted content is displayed. If they were to win this case it could have a detrimental effect on thousands of Internet-based companies and services.
The dispute is an appeal of a lower court decision. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington refused to rehear the case. According to the EFF, the court admitted that "the mere idea that advertising can be used as a form of currency is abstract," yet it ruled that when that idea would "likely" require "intricate and complex computer programming", it was no longer abstract.
The EFF, concerned that the ruling could make it possible to obtain patents for unpatentable abstract ideas by using internet-based methods, took its fight to the Supreme Court.
For some deeper background on this fight, check out The H Online.
Perhaps a more concrete ruling from the Supreme Court will cause some of these lower courts to dismiss cases that involve vague patents that should have never been issued in the first place. I know that these kinds of patents are the bread and butter of patent trolls, but it's about time that the courts at the state and federal levels set a standard.
On a related note, happy belated birthday to the EFF, who turned 22 years old on March 8. Thank you for all the hard work you do on behalf of the First Amendment.