UPDATE: More briefs added Oct 5, 2009, 11:30 am
The final round of amicus briefs have been filed in the pending Supreme Court case of Bilski v. Kappos. Mr. Bilski is appealing the Federal Circuit's en banc rejection of his patent application. In that decision, the court held that Bilski's claimed method of hedging risk did not qualify as patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101 because the method was neither tied to a particular machine nor transformative of any physical article. Bilski challenges this "machine-or-transformation" test as unduly narrow. Bilski's legal position was supported in a large set of amicus briefs including a strong textualist argument made by Professor John Duffy.
Briefs supporting the government position have been filed. As summarized below, the vast majority of briefs also reject the Federal Circuit's machine-or-transformation test as the sole test of patentable subject matter for a claimed process. In my summaries, I have attempted to capture what I learned from each brief, of course the briefs and arguments are much more extensive and nuanced than my squibs suggest.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Kauffman Foundation: Business method patents are harmful and should not be allowed. The long history of US patentable subject matter indicate that a patentable process must provide a technological advance. Likewise the mere fact that a process uses a machine or computer does not immediately render the process patentable subject matter. Rather to be patentable, the advance must be a technological advance. EFF etc amicus brief.pdf.
Red Hat: Software methods do not become patentable simply because they are tied to a computer. Benson. Download 08-964bsacRedHatInc.
William Mitchell College of Law IP Institute: This case does not properly present the issue of patentability of claims that include a mix of statutory and non-statutory subject matter. The court should wait for an appropriate case to decide that issue. Parsing Section 101 provides few real answers as to patentable subject matter. Download 08-964 William Mitchell College of Law Intellectual Property Institute.
SFLC (Moglen and Ravicher): Standing alone, software is not patentable. This result is derived from the Supreme Court's decision in Microsoft v. AT&T that “[a]bstract software code [uninstalled in a machine] is an idea without physical embodiment.” 550 U.S. 437, 449 (2007). Download 08-964 Software Freedom Law Center.
SIIA: The patent eligibility of software is well established and should not be disturbed. Download 08-964 Software & Information Industry Association.
Knowledge Ecology Int'l: The goal of the system is to encourage progress, not to reward inventors. Further, patent protection is not a "necessary policy intervention to reward successful investment in new medical technologies. . . . [M]any of the greatest medical advances have benefited significantly, and in some cases exclusively, from mechanisms that exist completely outside of the patent system." Download 08-964 Knowledge Ecology International.
Mark Landesmann: The evidence of the negative social impact of business method and software patenting is properly directed at the PTO's allowance of patents that were not substantially novel and that were not properly disclosed or claimed. There is no evidence that patents on novel, non-obvious and properly disclosed business-method process inventions create any harm. Download 08-964 Mark Landesmann.
Nevada State Bar Ass'n: The machine-or-transformation test harms emerging Nevada businesses – especially in the growing areas of solar energy, gaming, and digital communications. Download 08-964bsacintellectualpropertysectionnevadastatebar.
American Bar Ass'n: The court should use an incremental approach to excluding claims to subject matter where patenting does not make sense and creates a problem. Categorical limits such as the machine-or-transformation test may limit innovation. That said, the "[p]atent law should not interfere with the exercise of human intellect by granting a monopoly on processes in which thinking is central." A specific target of the ABA is to eliminate patents covering tax planning methods. Download 08-964 American Bar Association.
American Insurance Ass'n: Regardless of their novelty, insurance policies should not be the subject of patent protection – even when combined with a computer. Download 08-964 American Insurance Association.
Bank of America, Google, et al.: The patent laws should bar patentability of "accounting methods, tax mitigation techniques, financial instruments, and other means of organizing human behavior—or software used to implement those methods." Download 08-964 Bank of America et al..
Bloomberg: Limiting a method to use on a general purpose computer should not render the method patentable. Download 08-964 Bloomberg.
CCIA: It is important that the Federal Circuit eliminated the overbroad State Street test. The current tension in the patent system can largely be traced to that unprecedented over-expansion of the system. Tight limits on patentable subject matter are important because (inter alia) of the strict liability nature of patent infringement. "Tying patentability to physical subject matter is not a perfect solution. However, it limits the reach of patents in important ways that can significantly reduce the risks of inadvertent infringement and the scope of potential liability."Download 08-964 Computer & Communications Industry Association.
FFII: Patents on business methods have been considered and were rejected by the Statute of Monopolies in 1623. Patents greatly harm the Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) movement. Download 08-964 Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure.
Professors Menell and Meurer: The Constitution creates a real limit on patentable subject matter – i.e., the subject matter of the patent must be within the "useful Arts." Economic evidence indicates that business method patents (especially internet related business methods) are harmful. 08-964 bsac Menell.pdf.
Law Professors and the AARP (Including Josh Sarnoff): Patents should only cover "inventions in the application." Patents can not cover "non-inventive applications of public domain science, nature, and ideas." The right interpretation of the statute requires that the invention "reside in the application, rather than in a discovery preceding or employed by it. This is because the science, nature, or ideas must be treated as if they are already in the prior art, i.e., are publicly known and free for all to use. Absent invention in applying such discoveries, there is simply no invention to patent." 08-964 bsac Brief of Eleven Law Professors and AARP.pdf.
Microsoft, Philips, and Symantec: Nobody (except Bilski) believes that his claims deserve patent rights. The machine-or-transformation test should not be seen as the exclusive test of patentable subject matter of a process claim – in part because the test has already "proven overly difficult to implement in practice." Like Professor Hollaar, Microsoft would simplify the test by requiring that the invention "involve one or more disclosed physical things." Today's computers – although complex – are not fundamentally different from Babbage's 1836 mechanical computer. Process claims that use computers should be patentable. Am Brief.pdf.
Professor Hollaar and the IEEE: Just restating the general principles of patentable subject matter is unhelpful. Rather, clear rules are needed – especially because the subject matter question is most frequently addressed by patent examiners who have little legal training and little time to ponder abstractions. A clear and time-tested rule would be: A process is patentable subject matter when it involves making or using a machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. This means that software method patents that require a computer would be patentable, but Bilski's method of hedging would not be patentable. bilski-sc-amicus.pdf.
American Medical Association: The machine-or-transformation test should not supplant the requirement that a patent claim "address a technology." A patent should not be allowed to cover "every possible application of a scientific observation." Rather, claims should be limited to "a particular new and useful application or use of the observation. The Supreme Court should use this case to make a statement especially directed to "overreaching claims in the life sciences. . . . Such patents chill research, and patents such as those in Labcorp and Prometheus chill talking and thinking of ideas by making talking and thinking into a tort." 08-964 bsac The American Medical Association.pdf.
Adamas Pharma and Tethys: Section 101 should be interpreted in a way that is objective, predictable, and not duplicative of the other patentability requirements. The machine-or-transformation (MoT) test does not meet any of these requirements. The Federal Circuit test also violates US treaty obligations under TRIPS and NAFTA and potentially subject the US to trade disputes adjudicated at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Under these US-initiated treaties member countries agreed to offer patent rights "in all fields of technologies." A major purpose of the agreements was to ensure that countries offered a full scope of patent rights, and by limiting the scope of rights, the US "will no longer be able to credibly argue in Special 301 trade disputes that failure to protect healthcare inventions made by cutting-edge U.S. companies constitutes inadequate protection of intellectual property rights." Some Congressional intent can be gleaned from the legislative history of Section 287(c) of the patent act. As originally proposed, that provision would have limited the subject matter eligibility of medical and diagnostic methods. After some debate, a compromise was reached to continue to allow their patenting, but to limit the remedies available. 08-964 bsac Adamas Pharmaceuticals.pdf.
Robert Sachs and Daniel Brownstone: Software should be patentable and has been for a long time. The Federal Circuit test greatly confuses the issue. Although software is an abstraction from the physical world, it is not "abstract." SF-5270929-v1-Bilski_v_Doll_Amicus_Brief_of_R_Sachs_and_D_Brownstone_as_amici_curiae_2009-08-06.PDF.
Big Internet Retailers, including Crutchfield, Overstock, and LL Bean: Patent Trolls are hurting online retailers and one way to stop them is to eliminate business method patents (including software business method patents). In effect, business method patents amount to a tax on Internet commerce. (The companies don't mention – unlike offline retailers – internet companies are often exempt from paying sales tax…) Internet Retailer Amicus Brief.pdf.
Brief of CASRIP (U. Washington): The US Constitution sets a bound on the scope of patentable subject matter – limiting them to the Constitutionally proscribed "useful Arts" as that term was understood at ratification. For new methods, one key is to consider the purpose of the method. Methods of entertaining a cat using a laser and telling a joke into a microphone should not be patentable regardless of their tie to particular machines because neither of those functions have ever "been considered a useful Art, and surely . . . is not the kind of discovery that the Patent Clause contemplates." Some methods also exist that should be patentable even though they fail the machine-or-transformation test. Despite its problems, the machine-or-transformation test is "superior to its competitors in filtering out preemptive claims to basic principles." However, it should not be the sole test of eligibility. Bilski's claim is unpatentable because hedging against price inflation (the purpose of the method) is not within the useful Arts. CASRIP am cur brf.pdf.