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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Video Friday: Drone in a Cage

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
A drone inside of a protective geometric cage flies through a dark rain

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.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIA
IEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.
RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITY
ERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
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

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Remembering 1982 IEEE President Robert Larson

He was a supporter of several IEEE programs including Smart Village

3 min read
A photo of two men in suits.  One behind the other.

Robert Larson [left] with IEEE Life Fellow Eric Herz, who served as IEEE general manager and executive director.

IEEE History Center

Robert E. Larson, 1982 IEEE president, died on 10 March at the age of 83.

An active volunteer who held many high-level positions throughout the organization, Larson was the 1975–1976 president of the IEEE Control Systems Society and also served as IEEE Foundation president.

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Optimize Your Lab for Hybrid Learning

Set up a hybrid teaching lab that offers professional-grade tools with seamless connectivity and productivity

1 min read

As an engineering educator, you want to enable your students with the best skillsets for success in the real-world. This means giving them hands-on experience. Now, you can empower your students to test, analyze, and share results collaboratively — whether they are in the lab or not. Download now!

See what it takes to set up a productive teaching lab that offers:

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