bizwriter writes "Many large companies have been closely monitoring the Tafas v. Doll lawsuit over whether the US Patent and Trademark Office has the power to change the patent application process in significant ways, so as to restrict the scope of patents and the chances of getting one. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has finally spoken, with a split court ruling that the USPTO does have the necessary authority. The case stems from a court challenge to four new rules the USPTO put in place in 2007. A number of tech companies including Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Apple, and Intel have supported the rule changes, which would strengthen their positions and make it more difficult for small companies to create, protect, and bring to market disruptive technology. These companies didn't have it all their way, as the appeals court said that one of the four rules conflicts with existing patent law and sent the other three back to a lower court for further review. If the decision is sustained by a full review of all 12 Federal Circuit appeals judges, it could be a blow to biotech and pharmaceutical companies, which depend on being able to obtain large numbers of patents. Expect further appeals on this one, and for the only beneficiaries in the short run to be the lawyers."