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Supreme Court To Review "Business Method" Patents 181

xzvf alerts us to big news on the patent front: the Supreme Court decided today to review the validity of "business method" patents. In particular, the Supremes will look over the "In re: Bilski" case, which we have discussed before. "By agreeing to weigh in on the case, the high court is venturing into controversial terrain. Critics of business-method patents say it was never the intent of the law to protect such things, which in their view are often far closer to abstract concepts or mathematical algorithms rather than physical inventions. Proponents say they are key to promoting innovation in today's knowledge- and service-based economy. ... The court's decision to review the Bilski case caught many observers by surprise. The Bilski patent claims are widely viewed as vulnerable to challenge on a number of grounds, and the sense among some experts was it would make a poor test case. ... The Supreme Court won't hear arguments in Bilski until its next term, which begins in October. A ruling is likely during the first half of 2010."
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Supreme Court To Review "Business Method" Patents

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  • Re:About time (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @07:35PM (#28175621) Homepage Journal

    I hope they throw out all the process patents but it'll be very long if ever.

    Not to mention, it would require them to blatantly disregard the patent statute. 35 U.S.C. section 101, "Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter ... may obtain a patent therefor[.]"

  • Re:About time (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:07PM (#28175901)

    Process, as used in 35USC referred to manufacturing processes not thought processes.

    TFA says Bilski was rejected by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on the basis that it simply involved a mental process.

    Even if it has been a patent on a proceedure for sorting office papers into filing cabinets that did not require specialized equipment, it would STILL not rise to the level of a patentable process.

    Processing raw corn into imitation leather shoe laces via a series of physical and chemical manipulations would be a patentable process.

    See the difference?

  • Re:About time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @08:15PM (#28175979) Homepage Journal

    Process, as used in 35USC referred to manufacturing processes not thought processes.

    Well, that's the whole question the Court has to decide. The CAFC says the process has to be tied to a particular machine or it has to transform matter. The Supreme Court will decide if they're right.

  • by ActusReus ( 1162583 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:07PM (#28176765)

    Google is your friend [].

    Sotomayor worked as an intellectual property litigator prior to becoming a judge. However, her record on IP is actually pretty moderate and mixed. She's ruled in favor of copyright holders in a few cases, yet has limited the ability of big corporations to squash cybersquatters. Generally, her opinions have tended to be pretty narrow and focused on the case at hand. No telling where she'll go now that she has the power to decide broader law without being reversed.

  • Re:About time (Score:5, Informative)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @10:13PM (#28176811) Homepage Journal

    True, but I haven't heard anybody argue that process statutes are unconstitutional.

    You have now. This is the blurb from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of These United States of America:

    To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

    If you ask me, I don't think the Founding Fathers had "business processes" in mind when they wrote this. Understandably at the writing of the Constitution, there were no audio recordings or video recordings or computer software. But business processes did exist, and if the intention was to count their creators among "authors and inventors," I should think that they would have done so, don't you?

  • Re:About time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:20AM (#28178195)

    The court has specifically recognized cases where somebody made a new process to manufacture something that was already manufacturable by an older process. For example, Aspirin was recognized as a pre-existing synthetic under U. S. law, but the court ruled that the newer process for making it was novel, because it produced a medically pure compound at a cost that made it of widespread utility, while the older process produced a compound that required costly steps to eliminate contaminants. The court recognized it therefore as a new invention.

  • Re:About time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @08:37AM (#28180557) Homepage Journal

    One part of this I always choke on is the "tied to a particular machine or apparatus" test. The software patents I have been involved with throw stupid, irrelevant descriptions of computers, CPUs, and RAM at the patents to make it look like the software is tied to a machine. But they are about software running on general purpose hardware or operating systems, and not special, purpose-built machines designed to run the process under question. The math could be done by a human -- perhaps slowly, and not as accurately, but it could still be done. A PC is a general purpose machine that can do many things, not just the one thing listed in the patent.

    Even if you take the most special, purpose-built machine designed to run a piece of software, the math could still be done by a human. The USPTO's position is that "process running on a general purpose machine" is not patentable, but "process running on a specially configured machine" is patentable... but they haven't figured out what the difference is. If you install OSX on a machine, it can't run .EXEs. Is it no longer general purpose? Likewise, if you install Windows, you can't run .APP files.

    More importantly, if you have software doing process A, a machine that doesn't have that software installed can't perform process A. Only a "specific machine" with software A installed could perform it.

    It's a really weak definition, honestly. Hopefully, that's what SCOTUS will clarify.

    Can you really claim that blinking them one way is patentable if there are a trillion other ways of blinking them to achieve the same results?

    Sure - nothing in the patent statutes say you have to invent the only solution for a particular problem.

  • Re:About time (Score:3, Informative)

    by b4upoo ( 166390 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @09:51AM (#28181341)

    Minerals also do not occur in isolated states in nature. Look at gold as an example. You have to crush a lot of rock to get an ounce or two of gold as a rule.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington