The Supreme Court this week sent a case involving broad patents back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for reconsideration. The case surround a patent that was granted to the company Ultramercial. The patent is for the concept – not the technology, mind you – of ads supporting online videos. Just the idea that an ad could be played and content could be payed for by an advertiser, all online. That is what the U.S. Patent Office granted to Ultramercial.
Ultramercial has been using its patent to troll companies such as YouTube and Hulu (the defendant in the lawsuit) by demanding payments. Most patent trolls get away with using overly-broad patents to extort money from legitimate businesses, but some companies and individuals are beginning to fight back. A Supreme Court ruling that Ultramercial’s patent is too broad would be a huge relief to the tech industry, which is currently in a patent arms war.
The Supreme Court made no definite decision on the case, instead passing it back to the lower court in light of a recent decision the Supreme Court did hand down involving the patenting of a diagnostic procedure. Again, not the technology to diagnose patients, but simply the method of diagnosis – a list, basically, of the steps a doctor would take. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the patent was too broad. It’s that decision that the justices have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to remember when reconsidering the case.
The issue of patent trolling, which has grown into a leech-like multi-million dollar business over the past decade, is finally getting the attention it deserves. Both courts and individual businesses are beginning to stand up to companies that have no business operations other than offensive patent lawsuits. Here’s hoping the right decisions are made to free-up innovation, so society can use the technological bridges being built and improved every year, without having to pay the trolls.
(via Ars Technica)