The US Supreme Court has to decide whether software can be patented

The US Supreme Court delved last month into the hotly contested question of whether softwares are eligible for patent protection.

Alice Corporation is an American company which holds patents for a computer system that facilitates financial transactions and, in the present case, the patents have been challenged by CLS Bank International, which says they are not eligible.

During the last year, the Federal Appeal Court ruled for CLS but the judges were split on which legal test to adopt. The ruling, expected by the end of June, will interest not only software companies but also a wide range of businesses that sell products containing computer-implemented features. But it's not just the two sides which are interested in the outcome. Google, Dell, Verizon Communications, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and engine manufacturer Cummins are among the companies that have filed legal papers weighing in on the issue.

The legal question is to define when inventions should receive legal protection. The US Patent Act states that anyone who "invents or discovers a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter", or an improvement of an existing one, can get a patent. An invention related to an abstract idea can be patented, but it must include a way of applying the idea.

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