Google, Facebook call for an end to 'abstract' patents

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A group of tech companies including Google, Facebook, Red Hat and Dell have stepped into a US patent case to call for a ban on patenting abstract ideas.

The companies, which also include Rackspace, Zynga and Intuit, have filed a third-party amicus brief in the case of CLS Bank International vs Alice Corp, currently before the US federal Court of Appeals.

They're arguing that the Alice patents involved, which cover financial processes, are invalid because they are too obvious and abstract. Describing a process and then trying to patent 'doing it on a computer' is pretty meaningless, they say.

"A disturbing number of patents amount to no more than describing an abstract idea at a high level of generality and saying to perform it on a compute or over the internet — without providing any of the specifics required to transform abstract ideas into patentable inventions," the companies say in their brief.

"Low-quality patents in computer-related industries have become a scourge that raises costs and places a drag on innovation. One study found that patents in these [tech] industries jave produced net litigation costs far in excerss of the net profits derived from the patents themselves."

One notable omission from the group is Apple, recently slated by Samsung for attempting to patent 'rectangles with rounded corners'.

Indeed, the amicus brief comes just as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) declares, for the second time in two months, that a key Apple patent is invalid on the basis of obviousness.

US Patent No. 7,479,949 describes a 'touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics', and is widely known as the 'Steve Jobs patent'.