30 October 2008

Business Methods Patents Limited

In the biggest business method patent case since State Street Bank, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, has narrowed the circumstances when a business method patent may be issued in the case In re Bliski.

In a nutshell, the new test requires a greater connection to some sort of machine for a business method to be eligible for a patent, rather than a merely human implemented idea. Specifically, in order to be eligible for protection, a claimed process must be (1) tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) transforms a particular article into a different state or thing. If it does neither it is an unpatentable mental process.

The full 132 page decision can be found here. A request for U.S. Supreme Court review is almost certain, although a grant of that review is never certain.

The case represents a major victory for "weak IP" proponents who argue that excessively broad intellectual property rights stifle innovation. This concern is particularly acute in patent law because independently developed ideas are excluded from the derivative works protections of copyright, but not from the protections of patent law. This decision also likely deals a major blow to "tax law patents" which have been extremely controversial in their own right, apart from the larger business method patent controversy.

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