Method Men? Handicapping Bilski at the Supreme Court

1 06 2009

When the Federal Circuit issued the landmark Bilski decision, some folks were ready to call it the death of (most) business method patents, or even software patents—that view was a bit premature, because the law was still unsettled. Now, with the nation’s top court now looking to take up the Bilski case, it’s really unsettled.

Even if Sotomayor joins the court and is a strongly pro-patent judge, for those hoping for stronger limits on what can be patented, there are still ways to count to five. Several justices have, in other cases, dropped hints about what’s on their minds when it comes to the nation’s patent system.

The Court has taken four patent cases in recent years. Every time, the justices voted by a wide margin to limit the power of patents. The Federal Circuit’s Bilski decision [PDF] now at issue got rid of “pure” business method patents (without defining what they are), while signaling that lower courts should rein in patents in related areas such as software. The Federal Circuit did not, however, say how tightly to pull those reins.


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