Libby Levi / / flickr

What kinds of software—if any—deserve a patent?
It’s a basic question, and one that many thought would be resolved by now, especially since the issue came up in the US Supreme Court’s 2010 Bilski decision. But Bilski left the legal landscape more confusing and fractured. This was illustrated in dramatic fashion last year, when the nation’s top patent court, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, practically split apart at the seams trying to decide if four patents on financial software held up. The Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank case resulted in ten judges writing seven different opinions and resolving nothing.
Seven months later, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the controversial case, setting off the most intense round of legal positioning over patents and software yet seen. In the four years since Bilski, the spread of “patent trolls”—that is, companies that do nothing but sue over patents—has gone from a tech-sector talking point to a white-hot, Main Street controversy. Dramatic examples like Wi-Fi trolls suing coffee shops and “scanner trolls” threatening thousands of businesses for the use of everyday technology have spurred debate in Congress. Several proposals were combined to become the anti-patent-troll Innovation Act, which passed the House on a rare bipartisan vote and is scheduled to be debated shortly in the Senate. 
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