This week is the end of the Supreme Court session. Three big rulings have happened in relationship to technology that are vitally important. The first ruling known as Alice which is a key decision in changing how people look at software patents. Second, was a ruling on Aereo, a company that provided a streaming service for over the air way signals. Third, a case about if cops do not need a warrant to search your cell phone.
Alice, has really reinforced the non-obvious clause for patent cases. In fact, it was reinforced in a way that will likely make it difficult for determining non-obviousness. Especially because it strengths the argument that an algorithm is a natural extension of a mathematical truth. Secondly, it requires something novel to be done with a piece of hardware. This means that you can’t simply just take “on a computer” into the patent and have it be valid. I think this will have some really positive implications on the patent trolls out there. Since, it’s required to do something novel, such as using RFID to do the work, you can’t simply say automation through a computer any more. I think this is a great step forward. I’m sure it will cause a lot of heartburn and many more extremely prominent cases to gain some greater level of clarity.
Aereo is officially dead. It’s been decided that Aereo was infringing on copyright in a massive way. They were found to have been completely violating copyright in every sense of the word. This is pretty scary in my opinion. It means that a company that wants to provide an otherwise free service through streaming is violating a copyright holder. This means anyone that acts as a sort of repeater is violating copyright. It certainly means anyone that is transmitting copyrighted material in any medium is violating copyright. This I think is devastating. Furthermore, I don’t believe that this ruling even required specific instances of copyright violation. This puts both Google and Twitch in a precarious position, because they are streaming potentially copyrighted material all the time. It also means that any company that streams other free content is violating copyright. I’m afraid that this is going to scare a lot of other companies out of these spaces. There’s a clear need for this service and the Supreme Court killed that innovation.
Cops need warrants to search your cell phone. This is a huge ruling. This means that if you have a lock on your cell phone that they cannot access the contents without getting a court order. This is pretty big. So I suggest making sure that you lock your phone and think about encrypting it. It truly provides a great deal more protection than in the past. Furthermore, if they violate this and do not get a court order, then the evidence is inadmissible. I am hoping that this lays the legal framework for an overturn of the collection of NSA Metadata. Based on the wording in the ruling, it seems that it would lend a great deal of weight to an argument claiming that the Metadata is part of the phone. If the police cannot access your call history through your phone without a warrant, then logically you’d need a warrant to get the information from a third party – that you HAVE to rely on.
I think that these cases will have a great deal of long term impact on the direction of technology and law in the next few years. I would not be surprised if there were more legal challenges based upon these rulings within the next few months. Expect the EFF to look to expand the logic of the cell phone warrant requirement. Look for companies that are getting hit by patent trolls to push back harder like New Egg has and really beat them down. I’m really concerned about the long term impact of Aereo though. Who knows the implications of that.