Software Patents Put to the Test – a Bad Sign for Trolls?

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One of the challenges presented by software patents, which are commonly asserted by so-called patent assertion entities (aka, patent trolls), is determining what the patent covers. Often the invention is described in vague terms that are difficult to decipher. A recent Federal Circuit decision involving online advertising patents may force patent applicants to describe their invention with particularity and assist in invalidating unduly vague patents.

In Function Media, L.L.C. v. Google Inc., a patent assertion entity sued Google for allegedly infringing three advertising patents. The patents describe a method and system to facilitate online advertising on multiple advertising outlets, such as newspapers and websites. According to the patents, in the past, advertisers had to manually ensure that their ads conform to the differing requirements of each advertising venue. For example, if one website required square ads with red borders, while another required rectangular ads with blue borders, the prior art systems required the advertiser to manually create both ads. The alleged invention eliminates this inefficiency by automatically formatting the ads to fit each publisher’s requirements and sending them out for publication. Google’s AdSense for Content and AdSense for Mobile products, when used in conjunction with Google’s AdWords interface, were accused of infringement.

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