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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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A low-key solution to qubits’ cosmic ray problem

3 min read
Conceptual computer artwork of electronic circuitry contained within spheres against beams of light, representing how data may be controlled and stored in a quantum computer.
Mehau Kulyk/Science Source

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iStock

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

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