(CN) - A digital watchdog group urged the U.S. Supreme Court to curb overbroad patents and "clean up the mess that is software patent law" in an amicus filing Thursday.
Electronic Frontier Foundation weighed in as the high court prepares to take up the long-running Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank
, over a patented computer system that helps close financial transaction by avoiding settlement risk. While a lower court found the invention so abstract that it was unpatentable, a Federal Circuit panel held that implementing the system on a computer made it extraordinary enough for a patent.
The EFF says in its brief that the Federal Circuit began this obsession over utility patents in 1994 when it "concocted the notion of broad software patents" in In re Alappat
. By 1997, the software patent market had exploded.
But EFF adds that patent litigation has also exploded as it becomes more difficult to innovate around the abstracts without running afoul of the patent holder.
"Much of this litigation involves patent cases brought by nonpracticing entities, also known as patent assertion entities, patent monetizers, or colloquially, 'patent trolls' which have significantly increased in recent years," the brief states.
These patent trolls primarily attack small startups, where legal expenses can kill and "the mere threat of those expenses can chill innovation," according to the group. And while the Apples and the Samsungs grab all the headlines, the reality is that more than half of the defendants in patent troll litigation make less than $10 million annually.
"In this case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to implement a sensible system, limiting these broad and vague claims that do nothing besides fuel lawsuits," EFF senior staff attorney Julie Samuels said in a statement. "A clear ruling here would limit one of the patent troll's favorite weapons - broad and vague software patents - and keep our innovation economy safe."