Software Patents (2018 update)

We may finally have some good news for software patents.  On January 25, 2018 the Federal Circuit provided its decision in Core Wireless Licensing v. LG Electronics on whether the claims of the patents at issue were directed to patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101 (i.e., under the Alice/Mayo framework).  The claims were directed to an improved user interface for devices having small screens, such as smartphone and tablet devices, which rather than requiring a deeply-layered interface for navigating to device functions, the claims provide an “application summary window,” which may be presented upon interaction with an application from a menu (for example, by highlighting the application for a predetermined time).  This application summary window provides quick access to one or more subsets of the application’s functions and/or data prior to actually launching the application.

Ever since the landmark Alice/Mayo decisions, software patents in particular have fallen victim to over reaching rejections by the patent office by classifying most of them as an "abstract idea" and therefore not patent eligible.  However, in this case the court found that the claims to pass Step 1 of the Alice/Mayo analysis as not being directed to an abstract idea.  The court relied on both the language of the claims and the language of the specification to find that the claims were directed to an improvement in the functioning of computers, particularly those with small screens.  In particular, the claims were directed to a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information in electronic devices, which improves the efficiency of using electronic devices.

Previously, most patents that survived an abstract challenge by providing an improvement in the functioning of computers did so with a highly technical solution.  This decision is good news since the patents in question provided an improvement in the functioning of computers at the end user level.  For inventors looking to patent software, it is highly advisable to make sure that all functional improvements are clearly described in the specification and that the claims are specifically directed to one or more of these improvements.