Can You Patent Scamming Energy Customers?

from the we-may-find-out dept

Back in February, we pointed out that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) is gearing up to hear a very important case, In re Bilski, that could change the patentability of software and patents. There’s likely to be a flurry of news about this case in the near future, as lots of folks are expected to file their own briefs in the case. However, Joe Mullin has turned up a separate, but somewhat related story that shows how the “business model” in question may have been about bilking customers. The patent application that’s being discussed has to do with a method for trading weather risk, which the company put into practice by offering billing solutions for various energy companies. Unfortunately for the company, the state of Minnesota discovered that those billing solutions seriously overcharged customers who were convinced to sign up. In the case of one energy company, customers who signed up for this “service” ended up paying almost $700 extra.

The link above has the whole convoluted story, but basically, Bilski’s company, Weatherwise, would set up call centers for energy companies and then promote special “fixed price” plans, though the methodology for setting those prices is kept a secret (even from the energy companies). Weatherwise itself isn’t actually being investigated, as it’s not regulated by the state, but the Attorney General of Minnesota is exploring whether or not energy companies basically outsourced to Weatherwise in order to boost rates outside of the state’s regulations. Either way, the two separate issues probably won’t overlap much, other than that Weatherwise’s CEO is complaining about how both cases represent attempts to stifle the firms’ “creativity.”

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Companies: weatherwise

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Comments on “Can You Patent Scamming Energy Customers?”

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MLS (profile) says:


This case is about to be considered by the CAFC, with its focus being on what should constitute a “process” for the purposed of Section 101 of the patent laws. Section 101 in very broad terms attempts to define the types of inventions that are eligible for patent protection, and inventions must first get through the “Section 101 door” before an application will even be reviewed by the USPTO.

What makes this issue so confounding is that legal guidance on this issue derives from Supreme Court decisions that in large measure reflect technological unfamiliarity, suggest that Section 101 should be construed somewhat liberally, but then provide “legal rules” that are anything but models of clarity. For example, one type of invention that has been deemed outside the patent laws is “mental processes”. Another is “mathematical algorithms”. Unfortunately, these terms have never been defined in a maner that permits one to correlate them with real world situations. One type of process that has caused me to wrestle with these “rules” involves image and signal processing, which invariably comprise complex mathematical manipulation of data.

Bilski will be an interesting and useful case if for once a court is able to articulate “rules” that enable inventors and attorneys alike to comprehend and apply in a relative consistent and predictable manner.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bilski

“one type of invention that has been deemed outside the patent laws is “mental processes. Another is “mathematical algorithms”.”

Well I sure hope so. Can you imagine the mess that would create ? A mental process is not an “invention”.

You want to patent an algorithm … what’s next you’re going to patent gravity ?

Can I get a patent on “Hello World” ?
What if I wrap it in AJAX web 2.0 jargon, would that make it a good patent ?

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