You can’t obtain a patent for taking some ordinary process in the real world and coming up with a computer program that makes it easier, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision is important because many companies have been trying to patent their apps and other programs to keep competitors from taking their business away.
In the Supreme Court case, a company called the Alice Corporation tried to patent an online system to reduce risk in financial transactions. Alice’s program was little different from a third-party clearinghouse or escrow service, except that it all happened automatically online.
But that’s not something that can be patented, the Supreme Court said. Alice didn’t really come up with a new idea or technique or process; it just took an age-old process and created an app for doing it.
Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, other courts began throwing out patent claims along the same lines.
For instance, a judge in New York rejected a patent for a computer program that helped people plan meals. The program let people choose meals from picture menus, learn how the meals would fit into their diet or nutrition goals, and let them substitute items and see how those changes affected the results.
But that’s no different from what nutritionists have done for years, the judge said, and even if a computer program makes it easier and faster, it’s not such a new idea that it can be protected with a patent.