A unanimous Supreme Court narrowed the reach of software patents Thursday.
The Court ruled that simply involving a computer in an idea doesn't mean it's patentable. The justices tossed out several patents belonging to Alice, an Australian financial services company, and the ruling could invalidate other similar patents.
But the Court didn't go as far as many patent critics had hoped, declining to strike down all software patents. Critics argue that a rise in litigation (especially over software patents) is suppressing innovation and limiting consumers' access to technology.
The Supreme Court has long ruled that "abstract" ideas are generally not patentable. Alice's patents covered a computer system for facilitating financial transactions. CLS Bank challenged the patents, and the high court agreed that a patentable invention must do more than just add a computer to an otherwise abstract idea.
"Merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the Court.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other technology giants had urged the Court to issue a broad ruling against software patents. In a brief to the Court, the companies wrote that abstract software patents "have become a plague on computer-related industries."