With the Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments in Bilski vs. Doll, a case that already has set a new standard for granting patents on business methods, the ability to protect groundbreaking innovations in process and workflow will soon be determined. It seems obvious, after the case first appeared on the docket of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, that the 12 judges called in to hear the appeal were feeling particularly creative. To the dismay of many in the patent community, the appeals court seemed to effortlessly overstep its bounds by writing into existence a new test that mandates a business method must be tied to a machine to be patentable or tied to the transformtion of a object from one form to another.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in alliance with the federal appeals court, was trying to raise the bar. It left unclear if the parameters used before for granting a patent were too lax. But the court’s ruling is a signal to innovators and inventors that the broad patent applications of the past are history.