The United States Supreme Court bypassed an opportunity to clarify U.S. patent law when it handed down its Bilski v. Kappos patent ruling. It is unfortunate that bad patents will continue to plague software developers.
The Court ruled too narrowly to halt costly litigation in software patents, a matter that slows or even freezes innovation in the marketplace. This continuance of the status quo is unfortunate and unnecessary.
The Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the Bilski business process patent was unpatentable, but did not provide guidance or any legal tests that could be used to identify what qualifies as being unpatentable. No test is flawless, but neither is the system that we have today by any stretch of the imagination.
Lawsuits and patent portfolio warfare by deep-pocketed corporations against perceived threats both large and small will persist. Lower courts, and maybe even the Supreme Court, will have to revisit the issue in the months and years ahead. We believe that onlookers in favor of software patents, and those who are opposed to patents, will be equally dissatisfied with the narrow ruling.
At the same time, we are relieved that the Court did its due diligence and did not rule too broadly, because software patents do play an important role in the advancement of technology. A broad ruling could have invalidated software patents as a category, and that would harm the ability of innovative companies that invest heavily in R&D to operate.
The Court sought to take a middle-ground approach that left a lot of questions unanswered. In doing so, we believe that it missed a tremendous opportunity to clarify the hairball that every software company faces in dealing with patents. The Court took the easy way out, and now we, and our lawyers, will continue to deal with the consequences for years to come. What a shame.
Testing our 20/20 foresight
This issue of SD Times marks the 250th edition of this twice-monthly newspaper. What a journey it’s been since our origins in February 2000, but we recently explored our history in our 10th anniversary issue just a few months ago. For this celebration, let’s look forward another 250 editions, which our calculations place at Dec. 15, 2020. What will software development look like then?
On pages 14–15, you’ll read thoughts from 13 thinkers about what they envision. None of them predicted, however, that the Eclipse Foundation will deliver its 17th annual release train in 2020, continuing a tradition of not missing a ship date. (Of course, SD Times hasn’t missed a ship date in 250 issues.)
You also won’t see a prediction about Visual Studio 2010’s ability to work with .NET 11.0, or the self-healing structure of the Z+++ programming language, or an API breakdown of Google’s forthcoming AdWords for Telepathy service, or the 8TB storage capacity of the postage-stamp-sized iPod nano.
What we can assume, though, is that technology is going to continue accelerating. Today’s iPad tablets and cloud computing environments will be totally obsolete relics, superseded by devices and platforms that most of us can’t imagine. (Some visionaries, of course, are hard at work designing those next-next-next-generation systems.)
Computer power and bandwidth will keep getting cheaper. Storage and battery life will increase exponentially. Mobile computing like we see in today’s smartphones will be harnessed everywhere; there will be an app for everything.
Enterprise servers? Dinosaurs. Remote data centers? Huge. Desktops? Dying out except as technical workstations. Mobile platforms? Standard-issue for everyone from students to office workers to executives.
If you thought the past 10 years were a rapid ride, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The best is yet to come, and 2020 won’t be anything like 2010.