Monday, June 28, 2010

Bilksi Comes Out With A Wimper, Rather Than With A Bang

After receiving dozens of amicus briefs and pondering the case for close to seven months following oral argument, the Supreme Court has finally released its much anticipated decision in Bilsky. Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___(2010).   In short, the Court affirmed the judgment of the en banc Federal Circuit that the claims of the Bilski patent are not directed to patent eligible subject matter. In doing so, however, the Court specifically rejected the Federal Circuit's “machine or transformation test” as the sole test for patent eligibility for process or method claims. Instead, it viewed Bilski’s claims as “abstract ideas” that are outside the scope of patent eligible subject matter.

This result is not too surprising to this commentator.   As I mentioned last June when cert was granted, "[the Supreme Court's] past decisions over the years on the question of patentable subject matter, however, tend to avoid bright line standards and lean towards a more liberal scope of patentable subject matter, but certainly don’t embrace the scope of “anything under the sun made by man” as the Court once suggested.
The following quotations are from the syllabus and/or opinion of the Court and reflect the Court's holding. 

  • "The machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for patent eligibility under §101. The Court’s precedents establish that although that test may be a useful and important clue or investigative tool, it is not the sole test for deciding whether an invention is a patent-eligible “process” under §101."

  • "[T]he Federal Circuit incorrectly concluded that this Court has endorsed the machine-or-transformation test as the exclusive test. Recent authorities show that the test was never intended to be exhaustive or exclusive."

  • "Section 101 similarly precludes a reading of the term “process” that would categorically exclude business methods. The term “method” within §100(b)’s “process” definition, at least as a textual matter and before other consulting other Patent Act limitations and this Court’s precedents, may include at least some methods of doing business."

  • "Section 273 thus clarifies the understanding that a business method is simply one kind of“method” that is, at least in some circumstances, eligible for patenting under §101."

  • "This Court’s precedents establish that the machine-or transformation test is a useful and important clue, an investigative tool, for determining whether some claimed inventions are processes under §101. The machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for deciding whether an invention is a patent-eligible “process.”

  • "[I]n deciding whether previously unforeseen inventions qualify as patentable “process[es],” it may not make sense to require courts to confine themselves to asking the questions posed by the machine-or-transformation test."
  • "Even though petitioners’ application is not categorically outside of §101 under the two broad and  textual approaches the Court rejects today, that does not mean it is a “process” under §101."
  • "Rather than adopting categorical rules that might have wide-ranging and unforeseen impacts, the Court resolves this case narrowly on the basis of this Court’s decisions in Benson, Flook, and Diehr, which show that petitioners’ claims are not patentable processes because they are attempts to patent abstract ideas. Indeed, all members of the Court agree that the patent application at issue here falls outside of §101 because it claims an abstract idea."
  • "The concept of hedging, described in claim 1 and reduced to a mathematical formula in claim 4, is an unpatentable abstract idea, just like the algorithms at issue in Benson and Flook. Allowing petitioners to patent risk hedging would preempt use of this approach in all fields, and would effectively grant a monopoly over an abstract idea."

  • "Petitioners’ remaining claims are broad examples of how hedging can be used in commodities and energy markets. Flook established that limiting an abstract idea to one field of use or adding token post solution components did not make the concept patentable. That is exactly what the remaining claims in petitioners’ application do."

  • "Today, the Court once again declines to impose limitations on the Patent Act that are inconsistent with the Act’s text. The patent application here can be rejected under our precedents on the unpatentability of abstract ideas. The Court, therefore, need not define further what constitutes a patentable “process,” beyond pointing to the definition of that term provided in §100(b) and looking to the guideposts in Benson, Flook, and Diehr."

  • "And nothing in today’s opinion should be read as endorsing interpretations of §101 that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has used in the past."
More to come regarding the concurring opinions of Justice Stevens (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor) and Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Scalia) in a later post.

[Many thanks to Randall Berman, an associate with Dorsey & Whitney, for his assistance in quickly preparing this post]

No comments:

Post a Comment