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The Arbitrariness of Patent Law

As noted on Patently-O, the Supreme Court is set to address a question about the patentability of certain “processes”–whether the process has to be “tied” to a particular machine or apparatus, or transform a particular article into a different state or thing (“machine-or-transformation” test), to be eligible for patenting.

Now, I append below a summary of the various positions taken by various briefs filed in this case. The recommendations are all over the place. Examples like this should be considered by those libertarians who advocate IP and who think that “the courts” could just figure out the gray areas easily. They do not seem to realize this is purely artificial law, giving rise to insoluble questions–when the goal of the court is not to do justice, but to construe a decree of a legislature, you cannot expect just, or predictable, results. (For more on this, see my Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society, pp. 151 et seq.) As Kafka wrote, “Justice must stand quite still, or else the scales will waver and a just verdict will become impossible.

  • Yahoo (Bilski – Yahoo! Amicus Brief (S.Ct) (as filed) (8-6-09).pdf) The focus on physicality does not make sense in today’s technology.
  • IBM (08-964 IBM.pdf) The proper test looks for a “technological contribution.”
  • Regulatory Data Corp ( 08-964 Regulatory Datacorp et al..pdf) Brief by John Duffy focuses directly on the historical importance of the statutory test. “The government is now asking this Court to impose a formalistic restriction on definition of “process” that would create an unprecedented and uncertain judicial limitation on patentable subject matter. This Court should reject that invitation just as it did more than a third of a century ago, when the government unsuccessfully advanced the very same argument. See Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 71 (1972).”
  • Accenture (08-964 tsac Accenture and Pitney Bowes, Inc.pdf) Machine or transformation test is not a reliable indicator of anything relevant.
  • Austin IP Law Ass’n ( 08-964 Austin Intellectual Property Law Association.pdf) The patent statute explicitly defines process quite broadly in Section 100(b). The Federal Circuit’s version of “process” in 35 U.S.C. § 101 is far narrower than the broad definition of “process” in 35 U.S.C. § 100(b) (2008).
  • Double Rock and other IP entities (08-964tsacdoublerockcorporation.pdf) The Federal Circuit test conflicts with Supreme Court precedent and Congressional intent.
  • Law Professors [Lemley et al.] (08-964ac20lawandbusinessprofessors.pdf) The distinction on patentable subject matter should be based on the distinction between applied and abstract inventions. Bilski’s claims fail this test.
  • Chakrabarty (08-964 Chakrabarty.pdf) Brief by Scott Kieff and Richard Epstein argue that patent rights operate “like a beacon in the dark” to start conversations between innovative entities and potential users.
  • Franklin Pierce Law Center (Bilski.pdf) Court should adopt the “useful, concrete, and tangible result” test.
  • TeleCommunication Systems (08-964nsactelecommunicationsystemsinc.pdf) Subject matter eligibility should be predictably broad.
  • BIO, AdvaMed, WARF and U of Calif (08-964 tsac Biotechnology Industry Organization et al..pdf) Any decision should be clear that biotechnology is patentable.
  • Conejo Valley Bar Ass’n (08-964.ac.Conejo Valley Bar Association.pdf) The substantive elements of the patent act (102, 103, and 112) do all the necessary work.
  • Novartis (08-964tsacNovartisCorporation.pdf) A process of diagnosis should be patentable.
  • Dr. McDonough (08-964_PetitionerAmCuTMcDounough.pdf) “American innovation is not confined to Industrial Age mousetraps and other cleverly contrived gadgets. The modern economic agent is more likely to encounter innovation today in the services they consume than in the contraptions they use. The present amicus curiae suggests that the decision of the Federal Circuit in this case is an attempt to apply an Industrial Age standard to address a perceived Services Age problem, a problem that the present amicus curiae suggests does not exist.”
  • State of Oregon (08-964_NeutralAmCuOregon.pdf) (The Patent Hawk filed this brief on behalf of all Oregonians – although apparently without any official state approval) The brief makes an important point: Although Section 101 comes first in the statute, it does not make sense to use it as a screening tool at the PTO. Rather, the PTO’s skills are in comparisons of prior art and ensuring that the elements of Section 112 have been satisfied.
  • Chicago IP Law Ass’n (08-964 ac Intellectual Property Association of Chicago.pdf) There are strong parallels here with KSR; CAFC rule is too rigid.
  • Borland (Amicus Curiae Brief (Borland Software Corporation).pdf) The CAFC test does not properly follow Supreme Court precedent.
  • Time Systems (08-964 ac On Time Systems.pdf) Some abstract ideas should be patentable.
  • Monogram BioSciences and Genomic Health (08-964 ac Monogram Biosciences Inc.pdf) Patentable processes can be non-physical.
  • Sachs and Brownstone (08-964 ac Robert R. Sachs.pdf) The CAFC test is limits the patenting of software, and a bad result.
  • Boston Patent Law Association (08-964tsacbostonpatentlaw.pdf) A broad scope of patentable subject matter better preserves the health of an innovative culture; many landmark inventions fail the Federal Circuit’s Bilski test.
  • Georgia Biomedical Partnership, Inc. (08-964 Georgia Biomedical Partnership Inc.pdf) The Supreme Court has consistently refused to offer a “rigid” test.
  • Dolby Labs (08-964 Dolby Laboratories et al..pdf) The important thing is to settle expectations.
  • Teles AG ( 08-964 Teles AG.pdf) Subject matter eligibility should be “dynamic.” “Further, the global nature of today’s economy strongly recommends that the United States patent system be harmonized with robust patent systems of other nations wherever possible.”
  • Medtronic (08-964 Medtronic.pdf) Provides specific examples of medical innovations that may be unpatentable under the Federal Circuit test
  • Houston IPLA (08-964 Houston IP Law Assoc..pdf) The test negatively impacts Dell’s “build-to-order” patent (5,963,743) ; AT&T’s linear programming patent (4,744,028); and Sperry Corporation’s LZW compression patent (4,558,302).
  • Intellectual Property Owners (08-964acintellectualproperty.pdf) Machine or transformation test is not the only test; In its transformation test for signals, the CAFC “unduly focuses on the contents of the data . . . rather than the manner in which those signals are generated;” a general purpose computer should be considered a “particular machine.”
  • AIPLA ( 08-964 American Intellectual Property Law Association.pdf) A new exclusionary test is not needed.
  • Houston IPLA (08-964 Houston IP Law Assoc..pdf) The test negatively impacts Dell’s “build-to-order” patent (5,963,743) ; AT&T’s linear programming patent (4,744,028); and Sperry Corporation’s LZW compression patent (4,558,302).
  • Armanta, Asentinel, Cybersource, and Hooked Wireless (08-964 Entrepreneurial Software Companies.pdf) Questions of patentability are causing software companies to lose value.
  • Mr. Meiers ( 08-964 Raymond C. Meiers.pdf) A patentable invention “applies manifestations of nature and achieves a useful result.” This is the tripartite system.
  • Univ. South Florida ( 08-964 University of South Florida.pdf)
  • Awaken IP ( 08-964 AwakenIP.pdf) The CAFC test is unworkable and is as bad as the vague idea/expression dichotomy of copyright.
  • BSA ( 08-964 Business Software Alliance.pdf) Section 101 has been consistently and correctly interpreted to cover software innovations.
  • PhRMA, etc. ( 08-964 PhRMA et al..pdf) Medical processes should be patentable.”
  • Caris Diagnostics ( 08-964 Caris Diagnostics, Inc.pdf) Diagnostic method patents are important and have been called into question by Bilski.
  • AIPPI (TooBig) A flexible test is better, and TRIPS requires a flexible standard.
  • FICPI ( 08-964 FICPI.pdf) “The § 101 analysis should focus on the section’s substantive utilitarian requirement, rather than retrospectively attempting to rigidly define the categories of patentable subject matter without the foresight of the particular form technological innovations may take in the future.

[Against Monopoly crosspost; C4SIF]

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