The US Supreme Court yesterday released its decision on the Bilski v. Kappos case.
The bottom line:
Business methods can still be patented in the U.S.
Bilski attempted to patent a method of hedging energy commodities, primarily in the form of a mathematical formula. The US Patent Office rejected the application. The rejection was upheld by the Board of Patent Appeals and the Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit.
Most notably, the Court of Appeal rejected the previous test which had enabled the claiming of business method patents (the State Street Bank & Trust case), instead holding that “a claimed process is patent eligible [only] if: (1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing”.
Needless to say, this new test would have put a bit of a damper on business method patents.
The Supreme Court did not agree with the Court of Appeal. It held that the “machine or transformation” test is not the only test for patent eligibility for a process and that business method patents are in fact permissible under the Patent Act.
That being said, they nonetheless agreed with the Court of Appeal that Bilski’s patent should be rejected, not because it failed to meet the “machine or transformation” test, but rather because it was an attempt to patent an abstract idea rather than a business method. The Supreme Court affirmed that abstract ideas are not patentable.
Many like the EFF seem to be disappointed, but from a jurisprudential perspective the judgement makes sense to me. The Supreme Court’s rationale was that courts “should not read into the patent laws limitations and conditions which the legislature has not expressed” and there was no reasonable basis on which the term “process” had to be specifically tied to a machine or the transformation of an article.
In other words, it’s not the job of the courts to make up new stuff when it comes to the law – their job is only to interpret the law correctly. And if there’s any issue with the Patent Act, then it should be dealt with through legislative change rather than a judicial decision.
Perhaps not quite the interventionist approach that some might have been hoping for.
So, as the EFF notes, all of you out there that have a glimmer of inspiration on how to make your fortune from, for example, a system for reserving toilets, (or suing others who come up with the same thing but didn’t apply for a patent) can still pursue that dream.