Supreme Court could limit software patents

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on whether the government should raise the threshold for issuing patents for computer software.

The central issue before the justices was whether it iss too easy for high-tech companies to patent inventions that are not really new, but simply take an old idea and blend it with computer wizardry. The case’s outcome could send tremors through an industry that touches virtually every sector of the economy, from gadgets on smartphones to advances in antilock brakes.

The issue has divided the nation’s technology giants, with such companies as Microsoft Corp. and IBM warning that new restrictions could nullify thousands of existing patents that are the product of billions in research and development. On the other side, firms including Google, Facebook. and Netflix say the free flow of software patents has become a ‘‘plague’’ on the industry, blocking companies from promoting innovation.

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