Tagged: patents

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Stanford Law Review Online: Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Dan L. Burk entitled Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter. Professor Burk argues that the fact that something might be found in nature should not necessarily preclude its patentability:

The Supreme Court has added to its upcoming docket Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., to consider the question: “Are human genes patentable?” This question implicates patent law’s “products of nature” doctrine, which excludes from patentability naturally occurring materials. The Supreme Court has previously recognized that “anything under the sun that is made by man” falls within patentable subject matter, implying that things under the sun not made by man do not fall within patentable subject matter.

One of the recurring arguments for classifying genes as products of nature has been that these materials, even if created in the laboratory, could sometimes instead have been located by scouring the contents of human cells. But virtually the same argument has been advanced and rejected in another area of patent law: the novelty of patented inventions. The rule in that context has been that we reward the inventor who provides us with access to the materials, even if in hindsight they might have already been present in the prior art. As a matter of doctrine and policy, the rule for patentable subject matter should be the same.

He concludes:

“I can find the invention somewhere in nature once an inventor has shown it to me” is clearly the wrong standard for a patent system that hopes to promote progress in the useful arts. The fact that a version of the invention may have previously existed, unrecognized, unavailable, and unappreciated, should be irrelevant to patentability under either novelty or subject matter. The proper question is: did the inventor make available to humankind something we didn’t have available before? On this standard, the reverse transcribed molecules created by the inventors in Myriad are clearly patentable subject matter.

Read the full article, Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Stanford Law Review Online: In Memoriam Best Mode

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Lee Petherbridge and Jason Rantanen entitled In Memoriam Best Mode. Professors Petherbridge and Rantanen discuss an overlooked element of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act—the de facto elimination of the requirement that inventors include a description of the “best mode” of practicing their inventions in patent applications:

On September 16, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. It embodies the most substantial legislative overhaul of patent law and practice in more than half a century. Commentators have begun the sizable task of unearthing and calling attention to the many effects the Act may have on the American and international innovation communities. Debates have sprung up over the consequences to inventors small and large, and commentators have obsessed over the Act’s so-called “first-to-file” and “post-grant review” provisions. Lost in the frenzy to understand the consequences of the new Act has been the demise of patent law’s “best mode” requirement.

The purpose of this short essay is to draw attention to a benefit the best mode requirement provides—or perhaps “provided” would be a better word—to the patent system that has not been the subject of previous discussion. The benefit we describe directly challenges the conventional attitude that best mode is divorced from the realities of the patent system and the commercial marketplace. Our analysis suggests that patent reformers may have been much too quick to dismiss best mode as a largely irrelevant, and mostly problematic, doctrine.

They conclude:

Even while best mode can produce patent disclosures that have broader prior art effect, it simultaneously can cooperate with the doctrines of claim construction and written description to produce patents with claims that may be construed as having a narrower scope. Detailed descriptions of especially effective embodiments of an invention can have the effect of introducing elements that courts often find, either through the application of claim construction or written description doctrines, to be essential elements of an invention. Competitors that do not employ such essential elements are not infringers. Thus, best mode can further help establish and maintain the public domain by limiting the amount of information restricted by patents, thereby increasing the distance between bubbles of patent-restricted information.

Read the full article, In Memoriam Best Mode by Lee Petherbridge and Jason Rantanen, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Who Knew? Patents Don’t Really Promote the Useful Arts

Golf Tee Patent2Andrew Torrance and Bill Tomlinson have a paper out that challenges “assumption that innovation will be spurred by the prospect of patent protection, leading to the accrual of greater societal benefits than would be possible under non-patent systems.” The paper, Patents and the Regress of Useful Arts, “employ[s] a multi-user interactive simulation of patent and non-patent (commons and open source) systems (“The Patent Game”), this study compares rates of innovation, productivity, and societal utility.” In other words, the two have taken the idea of a Sim and created PatentSim “to simulate the innovation process in one of three scenarios: a patent system, a “commons” system with no patents, or a system with both patents and open source protection.” In the words of Johnny Carson wild, weird stuff, and quite fascinating too. Under their model and testing system it appears “that there is no statistical difference in innovation, productivity, or societal utility between a pure patent system and a system combining patent and open source protection.”

This post at Against Monopoly has a nice summary of some of the major articles on the topic of patents and innovation. Which reminds me, folks interested in empirical research should take a read of the paper too as it is trying to fill a gap by testing the innovation assumption in patent theory.

Image: World’s first patent for a golf tee; British patent #12941 of 1889, by Bloxsom & Douglas
Source: WikiCommons
The image size is reduced for our site, but go to the original to see/read the patent.