Top Technology and IP Law Developments in 2014

news-426892_640-300x1352014 was a big year for technology and intellectual property law. In case you missed some of the top developments that made headlines – some of which are changing how people do business — here are some highlights.

Software Patents under Attack

By far the biggest technology law news of the year was the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Alice case, in which the Court affirmed that the claims of the software patent at issue were ineligible for patent protection because they were directed at an abstract idea.

Some expected the high court to invalidate all software patents, but it did not go that far. Nor did it provide crystal clear guidance to other courts about what types of software and business method patents would be upheld.

In the wake of Alice, a number of courts have denied patent protection for computer-enabled inventions, and the number of patents granted in the field has also declined.

Supreme Court Makes Fee-Shifting Easier

In the Octane Fitness and Highmark cases, the US Supreme Court made it easier to shift legal fees to the losing parties in patent infringement lawsuits. This is good news for those with strong cases, and bad news for those with marginal-to-frivolous cases.

Since fee shifting applies to frivolous defenses as well as frivolous claims, it may make patent infringers (and accused infringers) more likely to enter into licenses with the patent owner rather than risk being sued in situations in which they have no real defense to an infringement allegation.

Ninth Circuit Rules Browsewrap Terms May Not Be Enforceable

As we discussed in September, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit warned website owners that if they fail to ensure that users actually see and agree to their terms of use, the terms may not be enforced by the courts. The case involved a purchase on the Barnes & Noble website which subjected the purchaser to an arbitration clause.

Most companies recognize that they need to have terms of use and privacy policies on their websites. However, too often companies view these documents as just legal filler, without paying much attention to the actual terms or whether they’ll be enforced. The Barnes & Noble case requires such companies to take a second look at their online agreements.

EU Recognizes “Right to Be Forgotten”

The European Court of Justice recognized a “right to be forgotten” and ruled that individuals can force search engines, such as Google, to remove from ‘name-based’ search results links to personal information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.”

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