Supreme Court Broadens the Test for Patentable Subject Matter

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Th US Supreme Court issued a ruling today that overruled a relatively narrow test adopted by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, known as the machine-or-transformation test. The Supreme Court found:
i) The machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for patent eligibility under §101. The Court’s precedents establish that although that test may be a useful and important clue or investigative tool, it is not the sole test for deciding whether an invention is a patent-eligible “process” under §101;
ii) Section 101 similarly precludes a reading of the term “process” that would categorically exclude business methods. The term “method” within §100(b)’s “process” definition, at least as a textual matter and before other consulting other Patent Act limitations and this Court’s precedents, may include at least some methods of doing business; and
iii) because petitioners’ patent application can be rejected under the Court’s precedents on the unpatentability of abstract ideas, the Court 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 Benson, Flook, and Diehr. Nothing in today’s opinion should be read as endorsing the Federal Circuit’s past interpretations of §101. See, e.g., State Street, 49 F. 3d, at 1373. The appeals court may have 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. In disapproving an exclusive machine-or-transformation test, this Court by no means desires to preclude the Federal Circuit’s development of other limiting criteria that further the Patent Act’s purposes and are not inconsistent with its text.

This is relevant to virtual worlds in that it expands the scope of patentable subject matter that can be protected for software based processes and the many novel business models that are emerging in virtual worlds, mirror worlds, augmented reality and other social media applications.

We have prepared a more detailed advisory on this case.