Bilski: Landmark Supreme Court Ruling Paves the Way for Innovation in the Information Age
Atlanta – June 30, 2010 – Bernard Bilski, the inventor involved in a contentious patent dispute 13 years in the making, said he had “mixed feelings” about a June 28 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In the landmark Bilski v. Kappos case, the Court upheld a lower court’s decision that two inventors, Bilski and Rand Warsaw, could not patent a complex method that manages how weather impacts energy prices. However, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that advances made in the Information Age do require that patents apply to more than just physical objects.
Bilski said while a loss for him personally, the Court’s written decision is a win for innovators nationwide.
"We are personally disappointed that the Supreme Court ruled against our claims,” said Bilski, who filed for the patent in 1997. “However, we are very pleased that the Court maintained the patentability of business methods and other new areas of development."
Jeffrey Kuester, a patent attorney with Atlanta-based Taylor English Duma LLP who represents the inventors, said a key argument in the intellectual property community has been further solidified. In this case, he said, the Court’s written decision was a validation that patents can—and should—be applied to business methods that affect software, e-commerce and many other areas of innovation.
“We’re living in a time when computers and even our energy infrastructure are defined less by physical properties and more by data,” said Kuester, who represented the inventors during the Supreme Court litigation. “While some people might be upset the Court didn’t issue a broader ruling, this is a huge step forward for innovation. The Court rightly understands that you can’t apply centuries-old principals of physicality to a digital age.”
Kuester said if the Court had made a broad ruling against non physical inventions, there’d be far fewer incentives to make advances in science and technology.
“Software, online shopping, cloud computing and medical diagnostics—these are all areas that can include innovations that aren’t necessarily physical,” Kuester said. “Without patent protection, investment in these and other types of inventions would decrease substantially.”
Going forward, Kuester said, inventors should be fully aware of the intricacies of this ruling—especially since litigation in the short-term will likely increase until lower courts further define what is patentable and what is not.
Warsaw, the co-inventor, said this particular battle is over for him but still wages on for other inventors.
"We are happy that the Court agreed with our arguments that the machine-or-transformation test is too narrow,” said Warsaw, “but it would also have been nice to receive a patent after more than 10 years."