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The Death of Business-Method Patents

From now on, you can get a U.S. patent only on a mousetrap—not on the idea of catching mice

8 min read
Illustration by MCKIBILLO
Illustration: mckibillo

On 30 October 2008, the much-maligned “business method” patent died at the hand of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the very court that had given birth to it a decade earlier. The occasion was the case of In re Bilski, and although the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to utter the last word, the overwhelming likelihood is that you will no longer be able to patent the newest way of making a buck. If you want to protect new modes of shopping, delivering legal services, reserving a rest room on an airplane, or settling futures contracts, don’t ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for help.

To critics of the business-method craze, the end could not have come soon enough. They’d complained that the patent system, designed to protect technology, was now spreading like a weed into all areas of life. Patents were being issued for using a laser pointer to tease a cat and for a way of playing on a child’s swing. (No joke—the patents were actually issued, in 1995 and 2002.) By covering almost any conceivable activity, the patent system was threatening to crush the very innovation it was meant to foster.

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This Wearable Neck Patch Can Diagnose Concussions

Self-powered sensors convert neck strain into electrical pulses to detect head trauma in athletes

4 min read
image of back of man's head and shoulders with a patch taped to his lower neck; right image is a time lapse image of a man's head extending far forward and back, simulating a case of whiplash

The prototype patch in this research is shown in (a) on the left; on the right (b) is the kind of head rotation that can yield an electrical response from the patch.

Juan Pastrana

Nelson Sepúlveda was sitting in the stands at Spartan Stadium, watching his hometown Michigan State players bash heads with their cross-state football rivals from the University of Michigan, when he had a scientific epiphany.

Perhaps the nanotechnologies he had been working on for years—paper-thin devices known as ferroelectret nanogenerators that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy—could help save these athletes from the ravages of traumatic brain injury.

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Video Friday: PoKeBo Cubes

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

2 min read
A young girl looks at a cluster of three simple robots facing each other on a table

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

RoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOK
IEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITY
CLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL
ANA Avatar XPRIZE Finals: 4 November–5 November 2022, LOS ANGELES
CoRL 2022: 14 December–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Get the Coursera Campus Skills Report 2022

Download the report to learn which job skills students need to build high-growth careers

1 min read

Get comprehensive insights into higher education skill trends based on data from 3.8M registered learners on Coursera, and learn clear steps you can take to ensure your institution's engineering curriculum is aligned with the needs of the current and future job market. Download the report now!