The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

COMMENTARY: Business-Method Patents--Down But Not Out?

The Bilski case leaves us with more questions than answers

4 min read

After a decade of uncertainty about business-method patents, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has weighed in once more, leaving us, finally, in a definite state of...uncertainty. This past October, in In re Bilski , the court ruled that a process or method can be patented if it is tied to a particular machine or if it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing. Legal scholars and patent attorneys are already furiously disagreeing about what that means. Only two things are certain: the door is still ajar for business-method patents, but it’s not as open as it used to be.

The case most often cited for opening the door to business-method patents is State StreetBank & Trust v. Signature Financial Group Inc. , decided in 1998 by the same court. That case, however, involved a fairly complex computer program, and all the court really said was that the validity of the patent should not turn on whether the ”subject matter does ’business’ instead of something else.” Even the poster child of business-method patents, the Amazon ”one-click” patent, which was in the patent pipeline well before State Street , involved software operating on a specially designed client-server system.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

His pivot from defense helped a tiny tuning-fork prevent SUV rollovers and plane crashes

11 min read
Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

And he had a problem.

The Cold War had ended, crashing the U.S. defense industry. And business wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. BEI needed to identify and capture new customers—and quickly.

Keep Reading ↓Show less