Red Hat asks Supreme Court to rule on software patenting

Red Hat, Inc. (NYSE: RHT) said it has filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the case of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank, asking the Supreme Court to find that its existing cases prohibiting the patenting of abstract ideas apply to software patents.

“Such a decision would mean a major course correction in patent law and the invalidation of large numbers of software patents,” Red Hat said in a prepared statement.

The case concerns the validity of a patent relating to financial intermediation (that is, escrow arrangements) using computers. At issue is whether the patent is invalid because it amounts to the type of abstract idea that is excluded from patent eligibility. Red Hat argues that software patents like the one in this case are unpatentable, because at one level they are similar to abstract business method patents, and at another level amount to unpatentable algorithms.

Prior to the mid-1990s, software was generally considered unpatentable, but appeals court cases changed this understanding. The result was an explosion of software patents. They now number in the hundreds of thousands, and they cover abstract technology in vague and difficult-to-interpret terms. Because software products may involve thousands of arguably patentable components, developers face the risk of having to defend weak-but-costly patent infringement lawsuits. A new class of business enterprise, sometimes called patent trolls, has developed to file lawsuits to exploit this system.

The scope of patentable subject matter is an issue of critical importance to the future development of all software, including open source. The Supreme Court´s CLS Bank decision could clarify the law and lessen the risks that innovation will be hindered by patents. Oral argument is scheduled for March 31, 2014.

Red Hat is the world´s provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Its website is at http://www.redhat.com.

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