Tuesday, June 29, 2010

There's madness in Court's method

Supreme Court relaxes limits on innovations that can be patented
At issue was a bid by two inventors to patent a business method for hedging risk in buying energy. The high court unanimously rejected the inventors' claim, deeming their innovation too abstract to qualify for patent protection. But in doing so, it also rejected a lower court's reasoning that only inventions involving machinery or physical "transformations" are eligible for patents.

Limiting patents to machines or transformations, the court said, would create uncertainty over the patentability of software, advanced diagnostic medical techniques and the manipulation of digital signals. But the justices stopped short of laying out categorical rules for what kinds of inventions should be patented.

"This age puts the possibility of innovation in the hands of more people and raises new difficulties for patent law," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the court's opinion. "The patent law faces a great challenge in striking the balance between protecting inventors and not granting monopolies over procedures that others would discover by independent, creative application of general principles. Nothing in this opinion should be read to take a position on where that balance ought to be struck."

Indeed, the justices were divided over setting broad principles that might replace the lower court's "machine or transformation" test. Although the court was unanimous in rejecting the claims of the inventors in the case, the justices differed over why, issuing three separate opinions that sparred over what types of inventions should be eligible for patent protection.

"The Court, in sum, never provides a satisfying account of what constitutes an unpatentable abstract idea," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a concurring opinion. "This mode of analysis [or lack thereof] may have led to the correct outcome in the case, but it also means that the Court's musings on this issue stand for very little."

Given the disagreements, the court relied on another aspect of the law, one that excludes abstract ideas such as natural laws from patents, to reject the inventors' claim.

And, judging by the title to this post, you probably thought Guambat was going to have a rant over this:
U.S. Supreme Court bolsters gun rights
But that's just too bloody maddening to mention.

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