Bilski v. Kappos: U.S. Supreme Court Rules that Business Methods Survive


The US. Supreme Court decided today the high-stakes software patent case Bilski v. Kappos, No. 08-964, June 28, 2010, affirming the Federal Circuit’s judgment. (find our previous post here) In Bilski, the Federal Circuit had rejected patent claims involving a method of hedging risks in commodities trading. The questions decided by the Court were: (1) whether the Federal Circuit erred by creating the so-called “machine or transformation” test, which requires a process to be tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or transform an article into a different state or thing, in order to be patentable subject matter; and (2) whether the machine or transformation test contradicts Congressional intent (pursuant to 35 U.S.C. 273) to allow for business methods to be patented.

The Court held that business methods are eligible subject matter under the Patent Act but declined to accept the Federal Circuit’s machine-transformation test as the exclusive test for the Section 101 determination.

Following are excerpts from the majority opinion:

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 BensonFlook, 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. See, e.g., State Street, 149 F. 3d, at 1373; AT&T Corp., 172 F. 3d, at 1357. It may be that the Court of Appeals thought it needed to make the machine-or-transformation test exclusive precisely because its case law had not adequately identified less extreme means of restricting business method patents, including (but not limited to) application of our opinions in BensonFlook, and Diehr. In disapproving an exclusive machine-or-transformation test, we by no means foreclose the Federal Circuit’s development of other limiting criteria that further the purposes of the Patent Act and are not inconsistent with its text.

To read the opinion, click here.

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