Legislation in the USA
21st century proposals
- Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes Act ("SHIELD"), proposed in August 2012
- America Invents Act, adopted in September 2011, but watered down to the point of being ignorable
The constitution allows for the possibility of patents to exist "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". This wording imposes two requirements. First, the idea has to be in one of the categories "Science" or "useful Arts", and second, adding patents has to promote progress.
Given the studies showing that patents harm software progress, this seems to clearly leave software patents as unconstitutional because they fail to meet the requirement of promoting progress.
On one hand, the 2003 Supreme Court deferred to Congress in the Eldred v. Ashcroft, allowing Congress to interpret this aspect of the constitution, at least for copyright (which is also established by the "To promote the Progress..." sentence).
On the other hand, in the 1966 Graham v. John Deere case, the Supreme Court ruled:
The Congress in the exercise of the patent power may not overreach the restraints imposed by the stated constitutional purpose. Nor may it enlarge the patent monopoly without regard to the innovation, advancement or social benefit gained thereby. [...] This is the standard expressed in the Constitution and it may not be ignored.
The US Code
USC 101 (patentable subject matter)
- (Most of the important case law in the USA involves discussing this section)
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 [35 USCS Sects. 1 et seq.].
The word "process" was added in 1952 and is defined (100(b)) as "process, art, or method, and includes a new use of a known process". Most software patents and business methods are claimed as a "process" (example: the Bilski patent) but some are claimed as a "machine" (example: State Street).
USC 101 has been used three times by the US Supreme Court, rejecting patents in Gottschalk v. Benson (1972) and Parker v. Flook (1978), and upholding a patent in Diamond v. Diehr (1981). USC 101 is also the subject of Bilski v. Kappos (pending, as of May 2010).
In a ruling on human genes (nothing to do with software), the court's unanimous decision ruled that human genes cannot be patented because:
Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention. Groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the §101 inquiry.
USC 102 (prior art)
About prior art.
- Federal Circuit Extends the Scope of 102(e) "Secret Prior Art", June 7th 2010, Patently-O
- BPAI: Under §102(e), Provisional Application Considered Prior Art as of its Filing Date, Oct 23rd 2008, Patently-O
USC 103 (obviousness)
(see patently-o's discussion of nonobvious and anticipated)
About "functional claiming".
USC 122 (secrecy of applications)
Patent application are kept confidential by the USPTO.
Section (f) was the subject of Microsoft v. AT&T (2006, USA), in which "According to reports, about half of the damage award is based on foreign sales under US patent law section 271(f)."
For more information:
- Patent Act §271: Infringement of patent, law.cornell.edu
- En Banc: Methods do not have Exportable Components and Therefore Method Claims Cannot be Infringed Under Section 271(f), 19 Aug 2009, Patently-O
- You thought paying Sisvel ended your license concerns?, 25 Feb 2007, IPgeek
USC 273 (business methods limitation)
§273(b)(1) allows a "defence" for "prior user rights for business methods". In the Bilski v. Kappos decision, Justice Kennedy pointed at the existence of this defence as an indication that the legislature had wanted business method patents to exist.
USC 284 (damages)
USC 285 (attorney fees)
USC 287(c) (medical limitation)
Medical activities exempted from remedies - or patentable but the doctor isn't liable.
Related pages on en.swpat.org
- America Invents Act (2011 reform, bringing no noticeable changes)
- Minor reform proposals in the USA
- Excluding gene patents in the USA
- Title 35, Part II--Patentability Of Inventions And Grant Of Patents, gpo.gov
- Title 35, Part II--Patentability Of Inventions And Grant Of Patents, law.cornell.edu
- Wikisource: US Constitution, section #8
- Wikipedia: United States patent law
- Wikipedia: Title 35 of the United States Code
- 35 U.S.C. 100 Definitions. - Patent Laws, from uspto.gov
- a 2000 proposal to change legislation to reduce/abolish business method patents
- Congress Takes Another Aim at Business Method Patents - discussing the above proposal
- "USPTO refuses to disclose Bilski's pending patent application". http://www.digitalmajority.org/forum/t-164353/uspto-refuses-to-disclose-bilski-s-pending-patent-application. "The application at issue in Bilski is not a published or patented application, and thus must be maintained in confidence under 35 USC 122(a)"
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