The U.S. Supreme Court heard a case yesterday that’s being closely watched across the technology industry today, as it may determine what constitutes a valid patent in the future.
In the case is between the makers of brake pedals in automobiles, but the exact details aren’t really important to most people. What is significant is the broad implications. One company had a patent on a product, and a second company took the patented design, made some changes to it, and obtained a patent on the new design.
The first company is accusing the second of patent infringement on the grounds that the new patent shouldn’t have been issued, as the changes made were obvious of moderate skill.
In case like this, the company seeking to have the second patent invalidated is supposed to show proof of "teaching, suggestion or motivation". As at least one Supreme Court Justice pointed out, no one seems to know exactly what that means.
A High Profile Case
The technology industry is closing watching this case, and Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco Systems have all submitted briefs to the Supreme Court in this case… but not necessarily on the side many might think.
Rather than coming out in favor of the original patent holder, they are siding with the second company, and its right to modify a prior invention and get a new patent on it. This is because most technology giants face frequent patent-infringement lawsuits, and would like to be able to head these off by getting their own patents on improvements to already patented inventions.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in this case in July.