Patent office issues new guidelines after court ruling

Months after a Supreme Court decision limited the types of patents that could be issued for software, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is releasing new guidelines for complying with the order.

The new interim guidelines made available on Monday attempt to clarify when the office will grant patents on software ideas and when those patent applications will be denied for simply translating an abstract idea onto a computer.

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They will “put the court’s decision into practice by helping examiners tell the difference between what is and what is not patent-eligible,” BSA | The Software Alliance President Victoria Espinel said in a statement after the guidelines were released. Adobe, Apple, Oracle, IBM and Intel are all among the companies Espinel’s group represents.

The release “marks an important step forward in improving how the U.S. patent system functions to encourage continued innovation in the digital age,” she added.

A Microsoft representative had a similarly positive reaction to the Patent Office’s guidance.

The guidelines “send an important message that software technology continues to be fully eligible for patent protection,” Microsoft said. “Innovative software technologies power our economy and the patent system protects billions of dollars in software R&D.”

In June, a unanimous Supreme Court ruling narrowed the definition of software patents, declaring that the mere addition of the use of a computer did not make an idea patentable. The case was Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank. 

The ruling could affect thousands of patents, but some software companies were left wondering when exactly their applications would get approved and when they would run afoul of the new standard. The new guidelines attempt an answer at that question.