We can expect over one dozen friendly briefs in the pending en banc case captioned Ex Parte Bilski by the amicus deadline of April 7. The Bilski case involves questions of whether an invention can fit within the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101 if the invention does not specifically require the use of “technology.”
35 U.S.C. 101: Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.
I was part of the team that drafted and submitted IPO’s 2006 brief to the Supreme Court in the Metabolite case. There, we argued on policy grounds that the court should not set arbitrary limits on the types of innovations that should be patentable. Instead, we asked the court to “support the expectation that innovations in yet unknown areas of technology will be eligible for patent protection.” There will be at least one Bilski brief arguing along the same lines. It will, of course, be interesting to see whether the IPO and AIPLA have altered their positions in the past two years.
If the court chooses to narrow subject matter, the 2007 Comiskey decision will quickly become an elephant in the room. In that opinion, the Federal Circuit implicitly held that a patent applicant cannot rely on nonpatentable subject matter portions of an invention to prove nonobviousness. Comiskey’s arguably unique inventive contribution was a method of arbitration. By itself, that method was considered an unpatentable mental process. And, Comiskey’s attempt to tie the process to a microprocessor were also unsuccessful:
“The routine addition of modern electronics to an otherwise unpatentable invention typically creates a prima facie case of obviousness. Moreover, there is no pertinent evidence of secondary considerations because the only evidence offered is of long-felt need for the unpatentable mental process itself, not long-felt need for the combination of the mental process and a modern communication device or computer.”
The implicit holdings here: (1) during nonobviousness analysis, any portion of an invention that constitutes nonstatutory subject matter will be considered de facto obvious; and (2) evidence of secondary considerations do not apply to portions of an invention that are not considered “patentable subject matter.”
Depending upon how it is interpreted, the Comiskey decision may greatly influence the impact of a rule narrowing patentable subject matter. For that reason, I hope that at least one brief will focus its effort on this important issue.