2013年5月14日 星期二

軟體專利(CAFC判決:CLS Bank v. Alice Corp.)

先前,美國專利局長曾經對「CLS Bank International v. Alice Corporation」提出意見,主要涉及軟體專利在專利局審查以及法院判斷間的矛盾,這個矛盾會讓軟體專利權利主張產生不穩定的問題,也就是專利局審查時會考慮101, 102, 103, 112等主要的專利要件,獲准專利後,卻因為法院對於軟體專利是否符合101法定可專利標的有不太一致的態度造成無法主張,甚至無效的挑戰。

可參考先前文章:
http://enpan.blogspot.tw/2012/08/blog-post_6.html


前次討論簡要:
當CLS Bank被告侵權後,提出Alice Corp.所握的電腦實現的軟體專利為「抽象概念」不符101條可專利標的的規定,地方法院的結論為:認為專利範圍界定的系統範圍僅表達在電腦尚的抽象概念,沒有其他有意義的技術限制;同理也認為產品專利範圍也是抽象概念。因此認為專利無效。
After noting its earlier conclusion that the method claims were directed to an abstract concept, the court concluded that “the system claims . . .represent merely the incarnation
of this abstract idea on a computer, without any further exposition or meaningful limitation.”Similarly, with respect to the product claims, the court concluded that they “are also directed to the same abstract concept, despite the fact they nominally recite a different category of invention under § 101 than the other claims.”


於是,專利權人Alice Corp.因此提出上訴到CAFC,CAFC對於以電腦實現的專利有效與否是否僅以101判斷作為唯一判斷的意見是:法院認為系統、方法與儲存媒體的權利範圍是否可專利並不能僅以是否為「抽象概念」為唯一判斷,駁回地方法院的決定。
This case presents, once again, the question of patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 of an invention implemented by computers. For the reasons explained below, this court concludes that the system, method, and media claims at issue are not drawn to mere “abstract ideas” but rather are directed to practical applications of invention falling within the categories of patent eligible subject matter defined by 35 U.S.C. § 101. The decision of the district court to the contrary is reversed.

本次簡要:
接著,在今年5月10日,CAFC作出決定,包括全部法官團(en banc decision)的意見,涉及的專利範圍為電腦化的方法、電腦可讀取媒體所儲存的指令,以及執行這些指令的電腦系統,根據Patently-O的描述,這10位en banc panel審理法官作出7個不同的決定,沒有太過一致的意見,但有一致認為(有點廢話):以專利法第101條規定作為可專利標的的判斷應提出一致、共識與可參與討論的方案(a consistent, cohesive, and accessible approach),作出讓專利權人、審查委員、訴訟當事人與法院可以預期的指導方針。但是否這樣的指導方針會影響法院判決的獨立性?

先列舉一項涉及此項侵權與101議題的專利範圍:Claim 33 of US 5970479
此項範圍涉及一個不同方(parties)匯兌的方法,每一方皆握有與交易機構的信用資料、借貸資料,藉此在契約中執行匯兌(請參以下原文)。這顯然是一個金融方法,我個人認為,這樣的專利確實比較難以透過補入一些硬體(如電腦、CPU、記憶體)就可以克服不符101的問題!
33. A method of exchanging obligations as between parties, each party holding a credit record and a debit record with an exchange institution, the credit records and debit records for exchange of predetermined obligations, the method comprising the steps of:
(a) creating a shadow credit record and a shadow debit record for each stakeholder party to be held independently by a supervisory institution from the exchange institutions;
(b) obtaining from each exchange institution a start-of-day balance for each shadow credit record and shadow debit record;
(c) for every transaction resulting in an exchange obligation, the supervisory institution adjusting each respective party's shadow credit record or shadow debit record, allowing only these transactions that do not result in the value of the shadow debit record being less than the value of the shadow credit record at any time, each said adjustment taking place in chronological order; and
(d) at the end-of-day, the supervisory institution instructing ones of the exchange institutions to exchange credits or debits to the credit record and debit record of the respective parties in accordance with the adjustments of the said permitted transactions, the credits and debits being irrevocable, time invariant obligations placed on the exchange institutions.
在整件專利侵權的訴訟中,地方法院甚至都還沒有解釋專利範圍(claim construction),就直接進入101的議題,原告與被告雙方也同意可以先釐清專利性的問題。
原告Alice Corp.在討論101的議題時,認為這些專利範圍所界定的技術應該都以電腦所執行,包括處理器、記憶體等,但簡易判決中站在被告侵權CLS Bank的一方,認定這些專利範圍都為抽象概念,不符專利法101的要求。
於是原告專利權人Alice Corp.提出上訴,法院與上訴人在專利是否為法定專利標的的議題有不少討論,可見判決原文,即便CAFC表示專利是否無效的認定不能僅由101來看,而是需要一體討論112, 102, 103等專利要件。確定一些事實:即便美國專利法第101條規定的可專利的條件極廣,不過自然律(Laws of nature)、自然現象(natural phenomena)與抽象概念(abstract ideas)仍為不可專利的標的。
35 U.S.C. 101 Inventions patentable.
Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.


本篇判決更是整理了幾個對於101討論的前案判例,值得一看,包括:Gottschalk v. Benson、Parker v. Flook、Diamond v. Diehr、Bilski v. Kappos、Mayo v. Prometheus


CAFC的結論:
『Applying the above considerations to assess the patent
eligibility of the specific computer-implemented
claims at issue in this appeal, we conclude that the district
court correctly held that the asserted claims drawn
to methods, computer-readable media, and systems are
not patent eligible and are hence invalid under § 101.』


CONCLUSION
『As described, we agree with the district court and
conclude that the asserted method, computer-readable
medium, and system claims of Alice’s ’479, ’510, ’720, and
’375 patents are invalid under § 101 for failure to recite
patent-eligible subject matter.』


本案結論,很不幸地(也應該有人覺得OK),Alice Corp.握有的專利都因為不符101規定而無法主張專利權。這意味著,軟體專利主張專利權時可能隨時遭遇困難。


我的結論:
  1. 一個方法專利是否能夠獲得相對穩定(不被法院駁回)的專利權,在權利範圍中盡量有與硬體連結的關係;
  2. 方法專利避免抽象概念,比如此次爭議為「金融交易」相關的技術,這類技術感覺就是人類之間交易的一種形式,只是配合一些規則最終產生了交易,但這些都是人為的動作,電腦化沒有帶來新的技術;
  3. 如果僅與電腦(computer)、處理器、記憶體等一般用途的裝置連結,需要更有意義的限制條件(meaningful limitation);
  4. 如果只是寫"applied to..."應用在哪裡的字眼,並不會幫助獲取專利,需要有意義的限制;
  5.  如果專利技術採用了一些基本的工具(如電腦),不會簡單地判斷這不符101規定,這是美國最高法院的態度。


原文:
http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/11-1301.Opinion.5-8-2013.1.PDF


Ron

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