U.S. top court considers patent protections for software

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:35pm IST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court justices gave little indication on Monday they would set new guidelines on patent eligibility of software.

From their questions during an hour-long oral argument, the court appeared likely to rule for CLS Bank International by saying Alice Corp Pty Ltd's patents for a computer system that facilitates financial transactions were not patent eligible.

Although some of the nine justices signaled a willingness to set a test that would describe exactly what types of computer-implemented inventions were patent eligible, others suggested there was no need for so broad a ruling.

A decision is expected by the end of June.

Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether a proposed test, suggested by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli on behalf of President Barack Obama's administration, would make the complex issue any clearer.

"I'm just doubtful that's going to bring about greater clarity and certainty," Roberts said of the proposal.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor also suggested the court might steer clear of the broader question.

"Why do we have to reach software patents in this case at all?" she asked Verrilli.

The case is being closely watched by a broad swath of companies in the technology sector and beyond.

Google Inc (GOOG.O), Dell Inc, Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) and engine manufacturer Cummins Inc (CMI.N), are among the companies that have filed legal papers weighing in on the issue.

In May 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C ruled for CLS but the judges were split 5-5 on which legal test to adopt.

The case is Alice Corp v. CLS Bank, U.S. Supreme Court, 13-298.

(Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)

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