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Supreme Court Limits Patents Based On Laws of Nature

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the there-goes-my-falling-off-a-bridge-patent dept.

Patents 173

New submitter sed quid in infernos writes "The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion yesterday holding that 'to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law, a patent must do more than simply state the law of nature while adding the words "apply it."' The Court invalidated a patent on the process of adjusting medication dosage based on the levels of specific metabolites in the patient's blood. The opinion sets forth a process for determining patent eligibility for patent claims that include a law of nature. The court wrote that the "additional features" that show an application of the law must "provide practical assurance that the [claimed] process is more than a drafting effort." This language suggests that the burden will be on the patentee to prove that its limitations are more than patent attorney tricks.'"

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Patent (5, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429397)

So I can't patent my method of not falling off the Earth through application of gravity?

Re:Patent (3, Funny)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429533)

You forgot something.

Method of not falling off the Earth through application of gravity, apply it.

3M, we don't make the patent, we make it better.

Re:Patent (2)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429763)

What if I add "using computers" or "using The Internet"? Can I apply for a patent for "Method of not falling off the Earth through the application of gravity and The Internet"?

Re:Patent (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430615)

Method of not falling off the earth using gravity and a mobile device

Mobile patent, trumps both "on a computer" and "on the Internet." B-)

Re:Patent (1)

matrim99 (123693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429805)

You can, but you need to add "while using a computer" or "while connected to the Internet" in order for the patent to be granted with minimal review.

Re:Patent (5, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429815)

So I can't patent my method of not falling off the Earth through application of gravity?

Alas, you can. This just means it won't hold up in court, not that you can't patent it, threaten other people, incur huge legal costs and tie things up for years making a nuisance of yourself until the money from your investors runs out, at which point you just declare bankruptcy, dissolve the corp that takes all the blame and walk away from the mess with the income you earned during the time.

Re:Patent (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430005)

I can image Microsoft or Motorola pateting this "...while using a mobile device".

Re:Patent (5, Insightful)

SuperAlgae (953330) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430867)

Curious that you left out Apple. After all, they took an "unlock" slider, which already existed in physical form on mobile phones and other devices, and patented the idea of putting that "on screen". I'm not saying that other companies would not or have not applied for similar patents, but Apple has crowned itself the king of obvious patents with its aggressive pursuit of that one.

Re:Patent (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431155)

Not to defend Apple, but I've never come across a mobile phone that you unlock using a physical slider. The nearest I can think of are slide phones where you pull (or rather push with your thumb) the phone apart, which is made of two parts similar to the two parts of a flip phone.)

Re:Patent (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430591)

Damn right, that was my first thought...method of exchanging gases by diffusion being the next best thing. Breathe and I'll sue!

Re:Patent (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431921)

Method and application for use of unique properties of the Higg's bosun to mitigate fictitious centrifugal forces on the surface of a rotating spheroid. Also claimed, said method applied to Internet, mobile, and commercial uses.

Cool ... (5, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429403)

Does this also cover patenting genes too?

Because I've never understood how you can patent a gene someone already had.

Re:Cool ... (4, Interesting)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429599)

Which would be very interesting when applying it to plant species. I'm betting Monsanto might have an issue or two with that.

Re:Cool ... (5, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429649)

Too bad for Monsanto. Perhaps a business model relying on the patenting of things that shouldn't be patentable was a dodgy idea to start with?

Re:Cool ... (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429737)

Definitely. But big money buys a lot of things, including politicians.

Re:big money buys politicians (2)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429879)

I want to play the Collectible Card Game about Politicians! You can spend Manna/Money, you can tap and un tap your "political resources".

Let's hear it for Wizards of the Coast!

Re:big money buys politicians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39430507)

Would it utilize THPP0 (To hit Patent Portfolio 0)?

I CHANNEL FIREBALL YOUR IDEA FOR 20 (3, Interesting)

TiggertheMad (556308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430513)

you can tap and un tap your "political resources".

With more than a little irony, I'd like to mention that 'tapping' cards was patented by WoTC already: Tap (gaming) [wikipedia.org]

Patents: Advancing the state of the American technology one red mana at a time..

Re:patenting discoveries? (3, Insightful)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430425)

Obtaining a patent on a gene (not the process used to find the gene)
is akin to getting a patent on finding a new animal species, finding buried city or dinosaur.

I thought you could not patent facts?

Re:Cool ... (3, Insightful)

realisticradical (969181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430433)

Interestingly Monsanto might have more to gain from the expiration of the RoundupReady patent than from the profits of the patent itself. Remember, Monsanto sells the weed killer Roundup (glyphosate). Once the RoundupReady trait goes off patent farmers will be able to buy the glyphosate resistant seeds from generic sources or save them year to year. If roundup resistant crop use increases so does roundup use.

I sort of think of it the same way as if cigarette companies came up with a pill that gave you the ability to smoke without ever getting cancer. In terms of profit they'd do better to give away the pills and sell more cigarettes.

Re:Cool ... (5, Informative)

wintercolby (1117427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430695)

While that may be profitable for Monsanto, it is horrible for our ecosystem. RoundupReady are genetically modified using e. coli bacteria to insert the genetic material. In order to verify that the genetic modification is successful, they also include the gene for penicillin immunity. Now we have massive numbers of organisms with the gene sequence necessary to be immune to penicillin, and more producers of GMO seeds means more genetic modifications in the wild. Monsanto has already come out with 2,4D (a component of agent orange) immune seed to prepare for the expiration of RoundupReady patents. It's also worth mentioning that a significant number of common weeds are immune to Roundup now.

Re:Cool ... (3, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431035)

Why the hell did they choose to test with penicillin immunity? Couldn't they have just altered the color response of the plant or something?

Re:Cool ... (1)

HairyNevus (992803) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430699)

True, but the glyphosate patent ran out back in 2000. RoundupReady has been mostly a marketing strategy (in the title, for sure) to still encourage buying glyphosate in its brand-name form. So, when that patent runs out, Cargill or whoever can make "Brand-Name"Ready crops, and package glyphosate under "Brand-Name", thus following the same plan and ultimately cutting into Monsanto's profits.

[off topic] I remember the year I spent studying Applied Plant Science was also my most politically-active year, because it seemed no one cared about the corporate games being played...

Re:Cool ... (1)

dan828 (753380) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429831)

Well, if you could (rather loosely) interpret gene patents or even new species with new genes placed in them as akin to software patents or copyrights.

Re:Cool ... (1)

subanark (937286) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430589)

I'm sure that as soon as selective breeding took place the result, it is no longer a natural process, but one that was influenced by humans. Unless the company simply found a species and tried to patent it this rule wouldn't apply. Still even if they did find a species, they could patent the proper way to cultivate it.

Re:Cool ... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429643)

I'm neither genetic engineer nor patent lawyer, but my guess would be that what is patentable here is transporting the gene from one species to another one. Which by itself is creepy enough if you ask me that it shouldn't enter my plate.

Re:Cool ... (5, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429901)

I'm neither genetic engineer nor patent lawyer, but my guess would be that what is patentable here is transporting the gene from one species to another one.

Not always. This [themarknews.com] , this [nationalgeographic.com] , this [discovery.com] , this [theregister.co.uk] ... all of them indicate that merely identifying the gene allows them to be patentable.

Not create. Not move from one species to another. Merely identifying the existence of it.

Sorry, but in my mind they're naturally occurring and have no business being patented.

Re:Cool ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429971)

Right. What should be patentable is the industrial process used to isolate and identify the gene. I agree that allowing a patent on the actual gene is a horrible idea. (And I am a patent attorney.)

Re:Cool ... (1)

oxdas (2447598) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430381)

This ruling seems to agree with you. I only read the article and not the ruling, so I don't know all the details. However, the Supremes seem to be saying that once you strip away the naturally occurring elements to the patent, then strip away the processes that are already widely used or obvious, then you'd better still have something left. That leftover is what is really being patented. If I am reading it correctly, it would suggest that gene themselves are not patentable, nor are genes mixed with widely used isolation techniques, but genes mixed with a novel way of isolating or purifying them could still be patentable. However, someone else could still work on the same gene, so long as they found another method of doing so. (And I am not a patent attorney).

Re:Cool ... (1)

dan828 (753380) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429933)

Even so, much of that technology was developed by seeing such things actually happen in nature. There is a good amount of junk that exists in your own DNA that came from outside sources. Look up endogenous retroviral insertions some time for some examples.

Re:Cool ... (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429745)

Does this also cover patenting genes too?

Because I've never understood how you can patent a gene someone already had.

Nope - that case, Myriad Genetics and the BRCA1 gene, is still going on.

Re:Cool ... (3, Informative)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430931)

Quote from third link in TFS: [patentlyo.com]

Whither Myriad: Although no action has been taken yet, I presume that the Supreme Court will now vacate and remand the pending Myriad case with instructions to the Federal Circuit to reconsider its holding that isolated human DNA is patentable. Following Mayo, the court could logically find that the information in the DNA represents a law of nature, that the DNA itself is a natural phenomenon, that the isolation of the DNA simply employs an isolation process already well known and expected at the time of the invention, and ultimately that the isolated DNA is unpatentable because it effectively claims a law of nature or natural phenomenon. One distinguishing point is that Prometheus claimed a process while Myriad claims a composition of matter. As we have seen in recent cases, the Federal Circuit already largely rejects formalistic distinctions between process and composition claims. Here, that distinction is further minimized by the reality that the claimed DNA is functionally characterized by the already well known process of isolating human DNA.

(Emphasis mine.)

Of course, that's just an observer's speculation, but very logical IM(A)HO*. We can hope that logic will continue to prevail.

*In My Amateur Honest Opinion

Re:Cool ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429907)

No, those are copyrighted. You owe me $8 Billion for your DNA.

Re:Cool ... (2)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430053)

per cell or per strand?

Re:Cool ... (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429909)

Does this also cover patenting genes too?

Because I've never understood how you can patent a gene someone already had.

It would seem the SCOTUS would allow gene patents, provided they do something beyond what is already known and is sufficiently significant- so that splicing a gene from plant X onto Y at point Z to give it great protection from A' may be patentable; but it also seems that the idea of splicing genes to give greeter resistance would not be nor would splicing plant X' onto Y at point Z to give it great protection from A' necessarily violate the first patent. Then, IANAL so I 'm probably wrong on all counts.

Re:Cool ... (1, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429911)

The question may fall into discovering genes that already exist, vs. New ones created.

Lets say I spend billions of dollars on a bactera that I can put in glass container that will light up like a 100 watt bulb while feeding it C02, I would want to patent those genes that I created so I can make profit off of bacteria lightbulbs. However if you just found the genes that cured cancer that some people had, and giving others with cancer that gene, I don't think you should be able to patent something you discovered but didn't create.
 

Re:Cool ... (2)

oxdas (2447598) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430451)

The cancer curing genes could still be patentable if the method for using or purifying them was novel. In this case though, it would be the process and not the genes that would get the patent.

As for the bacteria lamp, if the new gene was just the splicing of two naturally occurring genes using standard techniques, would it still qualify?

Re:Cool ... (1)

apcullen (2504324) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431061)

FTFA:

Although no action has been taken yet, I presume that the Supreme Court will now vacate and remand the pending Myriad case with instructions to the Federal Circuit to reconsider its holding that isolated human DNA is patentable. Following Mayo, the court could logically find that the information in the DNA represents a law of nature, that the DNA itself is a natural phenomenon, ...

Apparently there's a case about this issue in litigation.

inventive step (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431687)

You can patent a use of the gene. So long as the use is an inventive step. One that did not exist prior to your patent. So combining the gene with a virus to create a cure is patentable. (provided that step is not obvious to one skilled in the art) Simply using existing techniques to identify the gene and using medical knowledge to propose a known treatment is not patentable.

nothing and everything's a law of nature (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429435)

Whether we decide something to be a law of nature or a law of man developing as part of nature is a matter of drawing an arbitrary line.

This is why all notions of property are arbitrary.

Re:nothing and everything's a law of nature (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429607)

all notions of property are arbitrary.

I would disagree with that assertion.

Your desires, your dreams, your feelings, and all of your own thoughts are your own property. Although external and perhaps unusual forces may keep you from taking action with respect to any of them, they are nonetheless still yours.

Even if these things were only put into you by brainwashing, or by subliminal or even direct suggestion, they are still fully yours, and you are accountable to them, and take responsibility for them. The only way that you can fully lose this property is by dying.

Re:nothing and everything's a law of nature (1)

wickedskaman (1105337) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429781)

Would that make them intellectual property then? ;)

Re:nothing and everything's a law of nature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39430037)

Unexpressed, they're inaccessible to others, but they're not your own property in any natural sense, any more than the sight of your body is yours as long as no-one else can see you. It is easy to conceive of a sufficiently technologically advanced government / corporatocracy which would consider it to have the right to access this information in the interests of security / targeted advertising.

Re:nothing and everything's a law of nature (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430683)

Unexpressed, they're inaccessible to other

They are accessible to you. Since they are entirely internal anyways, that's enough.

t is easy to conceive of a sufficiently technologically advanced government / corporatocracy which would consider it to have the right to access this information in the interests of security / targeted advertising.

Whether somebody else can access them does not mean they are not yours... it only means that one does not have privacy.

Re:nothing and everything's a law of nature (4, Funny)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430981)

This is why all notions of property are arbitrary.

Could you give me my wallet, there in your pocket?

Ok.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429471)

Is this as good as it sounds?

Now we just need to fix patents for "X, but on the internet. X, but on a mobile phone. X, but in the cloud"

Re:Ok.. (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429673)

Perhaps they need to get rid of the whole "X, but on Y" construct entirely...

Re:Ok.. (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431457)

Aren't most inventions X, but on Y?
"It's a steam engine, but on a rail carriage"
"It's a speaking tube, but on electricity"
"It's a wheel but on inflatable sausages"

you get the idea...

Re:Ok.. (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431601)

"It's a steam engine, but on a rail carriage"
"It's a speaking tube, but on electricity"
"It's a wheel but on inflatable sausages"

1. A rail carriage is a rail carriage, no matter if it's powered by steam power, electricity, or magical unicorn farts. If the steam engine was new, then that should be patentable. Coupling it to the rail carriage shouldn't have been patentable on it's own.
2. It's not a speaking tube at all. A speaking tube was a waveguide for audio. An intercom is not.
3. What?

Swinging Sideways Review? (4, Interesting)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429495)

Does this mean we can finally get a review for the patent on swinging sideways on a swing [slashdot.org] ? The patent in question does not merely add "apply it" to suspended mass behavior -- it adds "apply it, but sideways."

Re:Swinging Sideways Review? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429569)

That would require an opinion since it adds new material.

The one that's abandoned? (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429799)

Does this mean we can finally get a review for the patent on swinging sideways on a swing [slashdot.org] ? The patent in question...

... was abandoned years ago.

patentee (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429543)

"This language suggests that the burden will be on the patentee to prove that its limitations are more than patent attorney tricks."

So uh the patent itself has to actively prove its own worth? that would be a trick indeed.

Re:patentee (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429695)

No, the patentee would have to prove that what he wants to patent actually involved more than him going out to have some beer with some friends and started with more than a alcohol-driven "I have this crazy idea..."

The patent SHOULD have to prove it's worthy of a patent. But not even that is required.

Hrm... (2, Insightful)

Artraze (600366) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429559)

I have some pretty mixed feelings about this. While it's true that there are some bad patents in this vein, I don't know if I'd consider them even a substantial portion of it. The trouble is that just because something is a law of nature doesn't make it 'obvious', and actually discovering that law can take a considerable amount of research. For example: every chemical process ever invented. Forget patenting extractive distillation methods. Hell, you could look at the lead chamber process as unpatentable because lead's role in the process (despite being a hugely important innovation) follows from simple natural laws.

Now, I'm really glad to see the supreme court start to take a more critical approach to IP, but unless there's something I'm missing here this decision could really have some bad side effects.

Re:Hrm... (3, Insightful)

Jonner (189691) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429625)

If you mean there could be "bad side effects" for companies whose business model is based on milking patents as long as possible rather than continually trying to out-innovate their competition, I'm sure you're right.

Re:Hrm... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429747)

The trouble is that just because something is a law of nature doesn't make it 'obvious', and actually discovering that law can take a considerable amount of research.

So? People do a considerable amount of research and discover interesting things all the time. Why does that mean there should be some complicated government system dictating what everyone else can do with that knowledge even if they independently figure out the same thing?

How does an artificial monopoly on facts of nature benefit society? If you just want to give people money for research, why not just do it directly instead of this insanely complex system?

Re:Hrm... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429777)

Hell, you could look at the lead chamber process as unpatentable because lead's role in the process (despite being a hugely important innovation) follows from simple natural laws.

Oh goodie something I know a little bit about. I love it when we talk chemistry on /.

However, from the article:

To be clear, the court still maintains the law of Diehr that “an application of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection.” On the other hand, the “application” must be “significant,” not “too broadly preempt” use of the law, and include other elements that constitute an “inventive concept” that is significant and separate from the natural law itself.

From what I understand of that, a patent reading "oxidation and hydrolosis, of sulfur, apply it" would fail miserably.

On the other hand F-ing around with strange catalysts in lead lined chambers is A-OK for a patent.

Re:Hrm... (1)

Artraze (600366) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430625)

Well if you look at their argument:

The relation is a consequence of the ways in which thiopurine compounds are metabolized by the body—entirely natural processes. And so a patent that simply describes that relation sets forth a natural law.

They seem to be arguing that the metabolic behavior and/or equilibrium along with the dosing boundaries are natural laws, and unpatentable. This is pretty much any chemical reaction: conditions, equilibrium and acceptable concentrations.

Then, regarding the basic dosage control:

Because methods for making such determinations were well known in the art, this step simply tells doctors to engage in well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by scientists in the field. Such activity is normally not sufficient to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law.

They basically indicate that for the patent to be valid it has to use methods that are novel independent of the natural law that was discovered.

So the trouble is, that really most chemical process patents follow that form:
1) Discover basic natural law
      a) Lead's effect in producing acid
      b) relative volatilities with the addition of some other component
2) "Apply it"
      a) builld chamber out of lead
      b) distill with appropriate additives

Mind that "On the other hand F-ing around with strange catalysts in lead lined chambers" is actually just discovering a natural law. The only transformative addition is then using of lead in the process. (Note that AFAIK nitrates were already being used in the 'glass jar process' prior to the lead chamber invention.) There are ultimately very few chemical processes that can't be rewritten in this way... Perhaps complex multistage processes when one could argue the innovation isn't in any the reactions, but rather the idea of stringing them together.

Re:Hrm... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429853)

some bad patents

Bad patents (and bad tort form) are what's keeping healthcare in the US expensive. It costs a hospital thousands of dollars to use an object to hold your organs in place "through the use of gravity" -- because someone patented rocks as paperweights for organs.

New tool/procedure patented that gives a person 1% higher chance of survival, but costs 10x as much? Use it or you're getting sued for malpractice if that person dies!

Before the housing bubble burst, many experts were expecting healthcare to be the engine for this recession, but the housing crisis catalyzed much faster than anyone expected (they were all expected it, they just didn't think it would take a less than a week to shit in EVERYONE's bed)

Re:Hrm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429899)

I do understand your point but right now we're dealing with a hemorrhage of patent abuse of which the case this is based on is probably one of the worst imaginable in it's impact. At this point we no longer need any more proof that patents are going to be abused and screwed in the worst possible ways by those for whom money has replaced common sense with greed. You can't count on a corporation to be moral about it's choices because that's not part of it's DNA. So the boundaries must be set even if they're not perfect.

Of the two, this is clearly the lesser evil unless someone else has a better effective solution.

Re:Hrm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39430437)

I think disallowing patents on chemical processes like this would be a huge win. Use trade secrets to protect your IP and cover your research dollars if you have to, but the patent system has shown itself to be more of a negative on innovation than a positive. About the only people who can even for an instant claim that trade secrets don't work is the drug companies -- because they have to expose things for medical testing -- but given the massive size of the medical market I'm fairly confident that they'll come up with some way to pay for their research.

Re:Hrm... (1)

oxdas (2447598) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430713)

In your example, the company could still patent any novel methods for identifying or using the "law of nature", just not the law itself. Anyone else could still make use of the law, just not using the methods in the patent. The important thing here is that the method is novel. Prometheus was trying to use a product of nature, mixing it with widely used methods, then calling it something new. If Prometheus had implemented a novel method for testing then the patent might have been valid, but it wouldn't have prevented the Mayo clinic from continuing to use widely used methods in respect the drug and human metabolism.

Re:Hrm... (1)

el borak (263323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431555)

Forget patenting extractive distillation methods.

You can patent the method all you want, you just can't patent the extracted compound if it's naturally occurring.

If the extraction method is the most practical way of extracting the substance, and the substance has sufficient value, you've got a nice business there.

And sometimes that's the way life works (1)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431663)

Yes, discovering natural laws can take a lot of research and effort. But something does not magically become patentable just because it takes work to discover.

This decision most certainly does NOT invalidate chemical process patents. The patent at question was: "Metabolite X is a product of the working dose of drug Y; if you detect X at a certain amount, that's bad." That's it. It's not a patent on how to test for X. It has nothing to do with the creation of Y or X. It's a simple statement of cause and effect. Anyone that measures the metabolite while using the drug would be violating the patent.

A chemical process patent is a different animal altogether. In a chemical process patent you get instructions on how to do things: "You can produce Chemical Z by adding Chemical Y to Catalyst X and heating it to 200C..." This is eminently patentable, and still is after this decision. If you produce Chemical Z with this process, you'll need to license the patent.

The chemical process equivalent of this junk patent would be: "If, when you heat Chemical X to 200C, you detect Chemical Y at 10ppm, X can no longer be used as a catalyst for Z production." It's a useful statement to make, but it's not patentable if the process for producing Z is not itself patentable. All you've done is given hints on how to make a Z factory run better.

It will most certainly stop some commercial research into discovering such relationships. But on the other hand, the lack of such patents also allows research (commercial or otherwise) that simply could not feasibly take place if the patents were allowed to stand.

If Prometheus had developed a unique test for their metabolite, their patent would have been upheld. But giving instructions what as to an unpatentable chemical is good for? Not patentable.

Laws of Nature? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429563)

Aren't all patents based on the laws of nature. I don't know of any that depend on magic. In fact I have never seen anything that was not natural.

Re:Laws of Nature? (2)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429715)

There are quite a few patents that cannot be implemented yet because they depend on some material the physical properties of which simply do not exist. They slipped through the review process, sadly, but they're there because someone thought that at some point in the future someone might come up with said material and then they want to cash in.

So yes, there are patents that are based on magical materials. Close enough to magic if you ask me.

Re:Laws of Nature? (1)

mjperson (160131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429801)

Doesn't that spoil the patent though? I mean if 25 years from now we discover the unobtanium needed to make your antigrav copter patent work, well too late, no anti-grav copter patent for you, because it was patented 25 years ago and has entered the public domain since.

Re:Laws of Nature? (1)

devjoe (88696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431485)

Not entirely, because the invention of the processes used to create the previously unavailable material may be patentable. And since the exact nature of the material was not known at the time of the original patent, there will probably be modifications to that design needed to make it work with the newly invented substance, again potentially patentable. You're right that it severely reduces the patentability of the antigrav copter, but I think that's how the patent system is supposed to work - the ideas people thought of 25 years ago SHOULDN'T be able to be patented, and in this case, there would be significant portions of this invention which are not covered by patents.

Re:Laws of Nature? (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430215)

I always find the term 'supernatural' amusing.

"additional features" (0)

NSN A392-99-964-5927 (1559367) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429585)

Would that be Microsoft's hidden features patent or another google, facebook or apple patent? Actually no! Whilst writing I this; I have deduced it could only be a Monsanto patent.

Goodbye software patents? (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429623)

Let's see...computer programs are proofs of mathematical statements (see: Curry-Howard correspondence)...so does this ruling finally invalidate software patents? Or are we still going to have software patents, and just demand that they not cover statements that are "obvious" to some judge?

Re:Goodbye software patents? (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429945)

Let's see...computer programs are proofs of mathematical statements (see: Curry-Howard correspondence)...so does this ruling finally invalidate software patents?

Nope. The opinion affirmatively cited Diehr.
That said, computer programs are already unpatentable... Valid software patents involve hardware, and hardware is outside of the Curry-Howard correspondence, so that argument doesn't even get you to invalidating software patents.

Or are we still going to have software patents, and just demand that they not cover statements that are "obvious" to some judge?

That would be a better way to go at it. We shouldn't be refusing patents on software that actually is new, useful, and not obvious to anyone, simply because they're software... and conversely, that some obvious patents are wrongly issued by the PTO doesn't mean that an entire industry should be kicked out of patent eligibility. Let's focus our energies on requesting better examination, and having the PTO hire more software engineers and CS majors, rather than trying to abolish all software patents, whether obvious or not. Plus, the former is more likely to succeed. Congress may tell the PTO to hire more computer programmers, but they aren't going to tell the PTO to cut off an entire industry.

Re:Goodbye software patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429975)

I believe in a better analysis; Try that this is exacly what they held in the medical sense. Software is program code to take input, process it by mathematical formulas and generate control signals that result in machine output of some type or another whether or not words or electrical signals to cause action. Thus exactly the same as measuring a test level, calculating the dose and applying it. .... I believe that any computer program can be reduced exactly to this Supreme Court Decision. YEA Supremes! Good Judgement for a change!

Re:Goodbye software patents? (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430131)

For a moment I was worried but then I remembered I don't use natural numbers in my code.

Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429731)

Exactly what patents cover that *isn't* within the realm of laws of nature?

Re:Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429819)

Exactly.

So, they've just indicated that patents, themselves, are invalid. I'm glad they finally realized this.

Re:Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429821)

Method of Hanging In Mid-Air For A Few Seconds, Completely Ignoring The Law of Gravity Before Plummeting Off A Cliff... Wait, that one's owned by Wile E Coyote.

Re:Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (1)

GLMDesigns (2044134) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429885)

I thought it was the ACME Company's patent.

Re:Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430121)

No, I think the major banks and the world economy have this patent now.

Re:Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39430217)

This talks about *obvious* applications of laws of nature.

It is like patenting that water falling down releases its potential energy as kinetic energy. What you can patent is a new hydrodam turbine blade construction and shape that capture said movement with a given efficiency.

You can't patent that the basic physical principle behind the transistor, but you can patent your implementation of a transistor.

You can't patent process that your body metabolizes medication or how the medication works. What you can patent is the medication itself.

IANAL, but this is rather clear, common sense judgment. The purpose of courts is to interpret laws - laws are not black and white. This judgment draws a gray line in patent laws on the shallow end of the innovation pool.

Re:Dang it. I'm confused. Remind me again... (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430429)

The the opinion [supremecourt.gov] discusses that, since it's at the heart of the case. The key issue is that natural processes and abstract ideas aren't patentable, but processes or methods applying them may be, if the application involves something significant in its own right. However they found that in this case the application consisted of basically the natural law, combined with instructions to doctors to use the natural law, which was too trivial an application. As the opinion argues:

...to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law, one must do more than simply state the law of nature while adding the words “apply it.”

In this specific case:

Prometheus’ patents set forth laws of nature --- namely, relationships between concentrations of certain metabolites in the blood and the likelihood that a dosage of a thiopurine drug will prove ineffective or cause harm. [...] While it takes a human action (the administration of a thiopurine drug) to trigger a manifestation of this relation in a particular person, the relation itself exists in principle apart from any human action. The relation is a consequence of the ways in which thiopurine compounds are metabolized by the body --- entirely natural processes. And so a patent that simply describes that relation sets forth a natural law.

The question before us is whether the claims do significantly more than simply describe these natural relations. To put the matter more precisely, do the patent claims add enough to their statements of the correlations to allow the processes they describe to qualify as patent-eligible processes that apply natural laws? We believe that the answer to this question is no.

Incidentally, the opinion is actually pretty clear and seems to "get" it, at least on this particular point. Contrary to usual practice when reading patent-related court opinions, I did not either: 1) fall asleep while doing so; or 2) feel the need to yell at the monitor.

Read the decision... (1)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431929)

You can use nature all you want when putting developing a patent. What you can't do is patent nature itself.

Patentable: You can test for drug metabolite X by heating a blood sample to 100C, twirling it around your head, adding unicorn tears to it, and then looking for it to turn chartreuse.
Unpatentable: If you find metabolite X in the concentration of 100ppm in the blood a 150lb unicorn, it's tears won't grant eternal life.

or, in the grand Slashdot tradition of car analogies:

Patentable: A new fuel formula consisting of Unicorn Tears as an octane booster.
Unpatentable: The statement: "Anybody claiming they put unicorn tears in their gas tank to make the car go faster is an idiot."

Finally! (1)

aglider (2435074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429759)

Someone is starting using common sense. And the brain as well.

Re:Finally! (1)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | more than 2 years ago | (#39429893)

Nope. Can't do that. Common Sense is copyrighted.

Re:common sense (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430769)

(Bitter)
Nah, they'll find ways to apply it with a double standard so that the best lawyer still wins.

Cherry picking SCOTUS news (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429935)

In other Supreme Court news, the EPA will have to tolerate challenges to its rule over private property `owners.' The Supreme Court ruled the EPA can not (effectively) prevent property owners from challenging EPA rulings by assessing massive ($30k/day) fines while the cases are being adjudicated.

Yay SCOTUS.

I'm shocked it was unanimous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39429997)

I would have thought the cranky dissenters would have ruled "No government is going to tell ME I can't violate the laws of nature!"

Re:I'm shocked it was unanimous (0)

Nutria (679911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430185)

That's because your first, second and third thoughts are to blame Republicans for each and every calamity known to man.

Math and software patents (5, Interesting)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430021)

Math is the first thing I thought of when I read the headline. Math!

How many software patents are simply applied math?

We may have found a slippery slope that works in our favor for once.

Of course (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39430023)

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion yesterday holding that 'to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law, a patent must do more than simply state the law of nature while adding the words "apply it."

Of course you can't just add the words "apply it" to a law of nature to get a patent. Everyone knows you have to add the words "over the internet" or "with a cell phone".

Come on people, this is Patent Law 101!

Why we need this law (2)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430431)

The anti-evolution people could patent evolution and then claim any teaching of it to be infringement.

Re:Why we need this law (1)

gQuigs (913879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430943)

The anti-evolution people could patent evolution and then claim any teaching of it to be infringement.

Wouldn't they have to admit it's right first? Admitting it is "useful" is a requirement to get a patent. Theories that are wrong, are not usually very useful.

Recurse: (1)

Alomex (148003) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430619)

I hope that this means "high level description of method+implement it" software patents are no longer valid.

Can this be extended to Computer Science (1)

jlbprof (760036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39430987)

Whereas an algorithm is really a discovery of a natural informational law?

Given a human's capacity for innovation... (1)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39431475)

Apply it. [patent pending]
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