Justices to weigh issue of patenting business methods

Justices to weigh issue of patenting business methods

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide what sorts of business methods might be patented, an issue with the potential to reshape significant parts of the economy.

“This is the most important patent case in 50 years, in particular because there is so much damage and so much good the court could do,” said John F. Duffy, a law professor at George Washington University who submitted a brief in the appeals court in support of neither side.

“The newest areas of technology are most threatened by the issues at stake here,” Professor Duffy said. “The court taking this is likely to make a lot of people nervous, including software manufacturers and biotechnology companies.”

In October, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington significantly narrowed the processes eligible for patent protection, ruling that only those “tied to a particular machine or apparatus” or transforming “a particular article into a different state or thing” qualified.

The petitioners in the case, Bernard L. Bilski and Rand A. Warsaw, had sought to patent a method of hedging risks in the sale of commodities, including the risks associated with bad weather. The appeals court ruled against them, and it disavowed statements in earlier cases suggesting that business processes could be patented so long as they yielded useful, concrete and tangible results.

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