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Supreme Court Takes On Business Method Patents

There will no doubt be a lot of eyes and ears open today and directed at the Supreme Court as the justices study whether business methods can in fact be patented-a topic of great important to the high tech and financial services industries, and something BS&T has covered in the past.

There will no doubt be a lot of eyes and ears open today and directed at the Supreme Court as the justices study whether business methods can in fact be patented-a topic of great important to the high tech and financial services industries, and something BS&T has covered in the past.According to The Wall Street Journal, companies as diverse as Microsoft, Bank of America and retailer L.L. Bean have inundated the Supreme Court with advice on the topic. Whether it's Amazon.com's one-click checkout process or Priceline.com's reverse auctions, the Supremes will set out to determine once and for all whether such modern business activities deserve patent protection. If they rule against this, they will have reversed a decision that had expanded protections to such processes for the last 20 years, said the Journal. To paraphrase one of the readers' comments, it really comes down to deciphering when something leaves the realm of "idea" and actually becomes a "method."

What's at stake, one attorney told the Journal, are millions, if not billions of dollars in value if these business method patents are eliminated. Many technology and pharmaceutical companies are urging the Supreme Court to uphold the patent protections, saying not doing so would inappropriately link high-tech processes to more primitive physical technology.

But not all tech companies are in favor of expanding the business methods protection, according to the article. Some, like Google, Symantec and Transamerica, said that doing so could expose them to infringement lawsuits over, "the very mental processes and ideas that are the building blocks of innovation."

The entire article can be found on the Journal's website.

This will be a very important debate and is probably needed to finally clarify what can and cannot be patented. Still, it is hoped the Justices keep in mind that 21st century technology is very different from 19th and early 20th century technology. Not taking this factor into account would be shortsighted of the Court.

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