September 2, 2021

Patenting Optical Inventions in the World of Alice

Knowing the basics of the Alice case could help inventors avoid patenting pitfalls.

In the early days of optics, optical inventions were instruments designed to view an object with the human eye. Whether such instruments could be patented in the US turned mainly on whether they were novel and nonobvious in the eyes of US patent law. There was never a serious question of whether the instrument constituted patentable subject matter since it clearly qualified as a machine under the patent laws.

Nowadays, the typical optical invention incorporates a digital detector and an electronic processor configured to perform digital processing of an image or optical signal. This digital evolution of optical inventions and the legal evolution of US software patents intersect at a 2014 US Supreme Court case Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, 573 US 208, known in patent circles simply as "Alice." Inventors of optical devices should be familiar with the basics of this case in order to avoid patenting pitfalls and optimize their chances of winning intellectual property protection for their work... read the rest of Joseph Gortych's article on SPIE


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