Supreme Court Rules Narrowly In Bilski; Business Method & Software Patents Survive
from the so-much-for-that dept
As I expected it appears that the Supreme Court has ruled somewhat narrowly in the Bilski case (pdf), which many had hoped would end the scourge of business method and software patents. Instead, the court effectively punted the issue. Technically it affirmed the overall decision from the Federal Circuit that Bilski's specific patent was invalid for being way too broad, but much more importantly for everyone else, it rolled back the Federal Circuit's "machine-or-transformation" test, which many believed effectively ruled out pure software patents. Instead, the court said that the courts "should not read into the patent laws limitations and condi-tions which the legislature has not expressed." In other words, business method and software patents survive.
I'm sure there will be much more analysis of this decision going forward, but on a first pass, despite "affirming" the Federal Circuit ruling, this one looks like a big win for supporters of business method and software patents. Basically, the court just said it would rule on this particular patent and not make any real statements on the overall patentability of business methods or software. So, in effect, it's no real change on how the patent system works.
Update: Many people had expected that Justice Stevens (who is retiring) would write the majority opinion. Instead that was done by Justice Kennedy. Justice Stevens' concurring opinion, however, is a pretty strong rebuke of the reasoning in the majority opinion, even if he agrees with the final outcome. It appears that Stevens does think that business method patents are a problem, but couldn't convince enough members of the court to come out and say it.
Since at least the days of Assyrian merchants, peoplehave devised better and better ways to conduct business. Yet it appears that neither the Patent Clause, nor early patent law, nor the current §101 contemplated or waspublicly understood to mean that such innovations arepatentable. Although it may be difficult to define withprecision what is a patentable "process" under §101, the historical clues converge on one conclusion: A business method is not a "process."