When it comes to technology patents and the effect they have on innovation and the ability to use and create technology, the news is usually on the bad side (for example some company crushing a competitor using a patent, or a troll attacking real innovators with a questionable patent).
But finally the news is good, possibly even very good. Today the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling (PDF) that will make it much harder to get iffy patents and even harder to attack real innovators with these iffy patents.
In this case, which had some of largest technology companies in the world arguing on both sides, the Supreme Court has removed a very weak test for whether an invention is obvious, making it much harder to get a patent on an obvious technique, such as one that merely combines several other inventions in an obvious way.
This is huge news. Many of the worst and most egregious patents out there simply take a known idea and add an obvious twist to it. With this new decision, the court has made it much harder to get a patent in this way. Even better, it looks as if it will be possible to now use this ruling to go after other existing bad patents that were based on obvious ideas. This one court ruling could possibly lead to the removal of many of the worst patents out there today and finally make some real innovation possible.
So, thank you, U.S. Supreme Court. We don’t always see eye to eye, but today it looks like you got it right. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the decision:
“We build and create by bringing to the tangible and palpable reality around us new works based on instinct, simple logic, ordinary inferences, extraordinary ideas, and sometimes even genius. These advances, once part of our shared knowledge, define a new threshold from which innovation starts once more. And as progress beginning from higher levels of achievement is expected in the normal course, the results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws. Were it otherwise patents might stifle, rather than promote, the progress of useful arts.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.