Supreme Court of the United States
BERNARD L. BILSKI and RAND A. WARSAW,
JOHN DOLL, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce
for Intellectual Property and Acting Director,
Patent and Trademark Office, Respondent.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT
BRIEF OF AMICUS CURIAE BOSTON PATENT LAW
ASSOCIATION IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS
STEVEN J. HENRY
JOEL R. LEEMAN
ILAN N. BARZILAY
Counsel of Record
JOHN J. STICKEVERS
AND SACKS, P.C.
JAKUB M. MICHNA
600 Atlantic Avenue
SUNSTEIN KANN MURPHY
Boston, MA 02210
& TIMBERS LLP
125 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110
Counsel for Amicus Curiae
Boston Patent Law Association
(800) 274-3321 • (800) 359-6859
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CITED AUTHORITIES . . . . . . . . .
INTEREST OF AMICUS CURIAE . . . . . . . . . .
SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT . . . . . . . . . .
ARGUMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Patent System that Protects Innovation
in All Areas of Technology Preserves the
Health of the American Economy. . . . . . .
II. The Machine-or-Transformation Test
Calls the Patentability of Many Landmark
Inventions Into Question. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
III. The Lower Court’s Ruling Has Already
Sown Doubt and Inconsistency As to
What Methods are Patent Eligible. . . . . .
IV. This Court Has Recognized That Section
101 Broadly Defines Patent-Eligible
Subject Matter, Which is Not Subject to
a Narrow or Rigid Test. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A. The machine-or-transformation test
is inconsistent with the text of the
statute as interpreted by this Court.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
B. If Section 101’s broad provision of
eligibility leads to bad patents,
Congress, not the courts, should
amend the statute. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
C. The patent eligibility of petitioners’
claims turns on whether the abstract
concept of hedging is applied to a
particular use. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ABLE OF CITED AUTHORITIES
CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc.,
No. 04-03268, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26056
(N.D. Cal., Mar. 27, 2009) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
DealerTrack, Inc. v. Huber,
No. 06-2335, 2009 WL 2020761
(C.D. Cal. July 7, 2009) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Diamond v. Chakrabarty,
447 U.S. 303 (1980) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20, 24
Diamond v. Diehr,
450 U.S. 175 (1981) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20-21, 23
eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, LLC,
547 U.S. 388 (2006) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ex parte Bo Li,
No. 2008-1213, 2008 WL 4828137
(B.P.A.I. Nov. 6, 2008) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ex parte Cornea-Hasegan,
No. 2008-4742, 2009 WL 86725
(B.P.A.I. Jan. 13, 2009) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ex parte Gutta,
No. 2008-3000, 2009 WL 112393
(B.P.A.I. Jan. 15, 2009) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gottschalk v. Benson,
409 U.S. 63 (1972) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11, 21, 25
In re Alappat,
33 F.3d 1526 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (en banc) . . . . . . 17-18
In re Bilski,
545 F.3d 943 (Fed. Cir. 2008) . . . . . . . . . . . . . passim
In re Nuijten,
500 F.3d 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2007) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10, 12
KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc.,
550 U.S. 398 (2007) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19, 22, 23
MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc.,
549 U.S. 118 (2007) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Parker v. Flook,
437 U.S. 584 (1978) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18-20, 24, 26
Picard v. United Aircraft Corp.,
128 F.2d 632 (2d Cir. 1942) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Schumer v. Lab. Computer Sys., Inc.,
308 F.3d 1304 (Fed. Cir. 2002) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
State Street Bank & Trust Co.
v. Signature Financial Group, Inc.,
149 F.3d 1368 (Fed. Cir. 1998) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Versata Software, Inc.
v. Sun Microsystems, Inc.,
No. 06-358, 2009 WL 1084412
(E.D. Tex. Mar. 31, 2009) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
35 U.S.C. § 101 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . passim
35 U.S.C. § 102 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3, 23
35 U.S.C. § 103 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3, 19, 23
35 U.S.C. § 112 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
35 U.S.C. § 273 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
John R. Allison & Emerson H. Tiller, Internet
Business Method Patents, in PATENTS IN THE
KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY 259 (Wesley M.
Cohen & Stephen A. Merrill eds., 2003),
available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/
10770.html . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6, 19
ANTHONY BREITZMAN & DIANA HICKS, AN ANALYSIS
OF SMALL BUSINESS PATENTS BY INDUSTRY AND
FIRM SIZE (2008), available at http://
www.sba.gov/advo/research/rs335tot.pdf . . . .
CHI RESEARCH, INC., SMALL SERIAL INNOVATORS:
THE SMALL FIRM CONTRIBUTION TO TECHNICAL
CHANGE, SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
(2003), available at www.sba.gov/advo/
research/rs225tot.pdf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Examination Guidelines for Computer-Related
Inventions, 61 Fed. Reg. 7478 (Feb. 28, 1996)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Invent.org, Hall of Fame, Maurice Ralph
339.html (last visited Aug. 4, 2009) . . . . . . . . .
KATHRYN KOBE, THE SMALL BUSINESS SHARE OF
GDP, 1998-2004 (2007), available at www.sba.
gov/advo/research/rs299tot.pdf . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Derek Leebaert, How Small Businesses
Contribute to U.S. Economic Expansion,
ECON. PERSP., Jan. 2006, at 3, available at
0106.pdf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ronald J. Mann, The Role of Patents in Venture-
Backed Software Start-Ups, ACAD. ADVISORY
COUNCIL BULL., Apr. 2007, at 1, available at
bulletin2.1softwareventurepatents.pdf . . . . . .
U.S. Patent No. 1,342,885 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Patent No. 3,959,770 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Patent No. 4,068,003 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Patent No. 4,200,770 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Patent No. 4,459,286 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Patent No. 4,901,307 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF
ADVOCACY, THE OFFICE OF ADVOCACY: THE VOICE
FOR SMALL BUSINESS IN GOVERNMENT (2006),
available at http://www.sba.gov/ADVO/
brochure06.pdf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
INTEREST OF AMICUS CURIAE1
The Boston Patent Law Association (BPLA) is an
intellectual property association that provides
educational programs and a forum for the interchange
of ideas and information concerning patent, trademark,
copyright, and other intellectual property rights. The
Association’s members serve a broad range of parties
who rely upon the patent system: independent inventors,
businesses of all sizes, the investment banking and
venture capital communities, universities, research
hospitals and other non-profit institutions.
The BPLA desires a reliable patent system that
fulfills its constitutional role of promoting the progress
of the useful arts. It views the decision below as a threat
to that role, because it injects instability into the system
and quashes critical incentives for innovation, to the
detriment of the American economy.
The BPLA takes no position on the eligibility of
petitioners’ claimed invention for a patent, but urges
that this Court vacate the judgment below, and restore
a proper rule of patent-eligibility against which
petitioners’ invention, and other method inventions, can
be fairly measured.
1. No counsel for a party authored this brief in whole or in
part, and no such counsel or party made a monetary contribution
intended to fund the preparation or submission of this brief.
This brief was authored in its entirety by amicus and its counsel.
No monetary contribution toward the preparation or submission
of this brief was made by any person other than amicus, its
members and its counsel. Petitioners and respondent have
indicated their consent to the filing of this brief by filing letters
with the Clerk of the Court.
SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT
The imposition of a machine-or-transformation test
on method inventions ruptures the well-founded
expectations of inventors, practitioners and investors
as to the broad statutory eligibility for patent protection
of “any new and useful process.” No less significant, the
test conflicts with this Court’s precedent.
Congress enacted an inclusive test for patent
eligibility, recognizing that paradigm-changing
inventions come in unpredictable forms and often push
existing frontiers. This Court has made similar
As patents are essential for attracting investments
in ideas, a narrow test will impede the commercialization
of many inventions, especially in such critical areas of
our information-based economy as computer software,
business methods and medical diagnostics. The resulting
harm will likely fall disproportionately on small
businesses, discourage investment in them, and inhibit
the introduction of useful products and services to the
Indeed, it is plain that many celebrated innovations
of the past that truly reshaped our world would have
been denied full patent protection under the machine-
or-transformation test. Where the invention is embodied
as a method or a process, an apparatus or system claim
does not provide adequate protection. The danger is
that method inventions of equal scientific and creative
eminence, that may be claimed in pending and future
applications, will be rejected for form rather than
The Court should reject the Federal Circuit’s
machine-or-transformation test, declare that this
Court’s precedent requires only that a method claim
define a new and useful invention (rather than an
abstraction) to be patent-eligible subject matter, and
remand for application of that rule to the claims at issue.
Alternatively, if the Court believes that remand is
unnecessary and that Bilski’s claims define only a patent-
ineligible mental process or fundamental idea—e.g., an
abstraction such as the concept of hedging risk, lacking
adequate limitation to a specific application—it should
strike those claims on that ground while still rejecting
the inflexible test enunciated by the Federal Circuit.2
I. A Patent System that Protects Innovation in All
Areas of Technology Preserves the Health of the
As the United States has evolved from an
agricultural to an industrial economy, and now to an
information-based economy, innovation has become
increasingly critical to its success.
2. As discussed below, Sections 102, 103 and 112 of the
Patent Act, when properly administered, provide sufficient
safeguards against the granting or enforcement of
unmeritorious patent claims. Section 101 was not intended to
take their place. Thus, the distinction between the useful and
the abstract has historically been applied sparingly, and this
Court should continue to require that only over-reaching
attempts to protect scientific principles and laws of nature,
devoid of application to a particular use, be considered
abstractions that are not patent-eligible.
Traditionally our patent system has protected
innovation in industrial disciplines such as chemistry,
mechanics and electronics. In recent decades, however,
technological breakthroughs have come more and more
in fields, such as software, medical diagnostics and finance,
where invention is directed to a method3 rather than a
product or apparatus.
Our information-based economy is sustained
primarily by small businesses, proven generators of
technological innovation. According to the Small Business
Administration, independent businesses having fewer than
500 employees “represent more than 99 percent of
American companies, create 60 to 80 percent of net new
jobs, employ half of the U.S. private work force, and
generate half of the private gross domestic product.” 4
3. The focus of the decision below was the patent-eligibility
of inventions expressed as methods or processes. The drafter
of a patent application frequently has available a range of claim
types that can define the invention. However, some inventions
cannot be adequately protected except by method claims. Such
claims are uniquely important to protect broad ideas, where
restricting them to particular implementations slights the
creative contribution. Consider, for example, a method of
communicating wirelessly by generating a radio wave at a
selected frequency and varying some property of that wave in
accordance with information to be transmitted. The true scope
of the invention cannot be protected by defining the tubes,
transistors and circuits for one, two or several embodiments of
apparatus that can be employed, as there will always be another
embodiment that can be conjured up to avoid infringement of
apparatus claims. The inventive concept lies in the methodology,
and method claims are needed to protect it.
4. U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF
ADVOCACY, THE OFFICE OF ADVOCACY: THE VOICE FOR SMALL
Although large businesses obtain a majority of
patents in this country, small businesses receive 13 to
14 times more patents per employee than their large
counterparts.5 The most telling statistic, perhaps, is that
a patent from a small business is more than twice as
likely to be found among the top one percent of most
cited patents than is a patent from a large business. In
other words, small businesses are far more likely than
their larger counterparts to generate patents with the
broadest and most technically important contributions:
Small firm patents outperform large firm
patents on a number of impact metrics
including growth, citation impact, patent
originality, and patent generality. These
metrics have been used for decades to
measure the innovativeness of firms, labs, and
agencies. The metrics have been validated and
shown to correlate with increases in sales,
BUSINESS IN GOVERNMENT (2006), available at http://www.sba.
gov/ADVO/brochure06.pdf; accord KATHRYN KOBE, THE SMALL
BUSINESS SHARE OF GDP, 1998-2004 (2007), available at
5. CHI RESEARCH, INC., SMALL SERIAL INNOVATORS: THE
SMALL FIRM CONTRIBUTION TO TECHNICAL CHANGE, SMALL
BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION (2003), available at www.sba.gov/
advo/research/rs225tot.pdf; see also ANTHONY BREITZMAN &
DIANA HICKS, AN ANALYSIS OF SMALL BUSINESS PATENTS BY
INDUSTRY AND FIRM SIZE (2008), available at http://www.sba.gov/
advo/research/rs335tot.pdf; Derek Leebaert, How Small
Businesses Contribute to U.S. Economic Expansion, ECON.
PERSP., Jan. 2006, at 3, available at http://www.america.gov/
profits, stock prices, inventor awards, and
other positive outcomes. This suggests that
the patents of small firms in general are
likely to be more technologically important
than those of large firms.6
Small businesses, moreover, are far more likely than big
businesses to rely on patents to protect their business
The patent is a small business’s sine qua non for
the commercialization and protection of new inventions.
It is the indispensable magnet for investors.8 The patent
is also the only shield that a small business can use to
ward off an often larger competitor who would otherwise
copy its inventions.9 Instead, because of the patent
shield, the competitor is thereby itself compelled to
innovate and compete fairly with the small business.
6. BREITZMAN & HICKS, supra, at iii (emphasis added).
7. Small businesses own 19.4 % of all internet business
method patents, but own only 10.7 % of all patents. John R.
Allison & Emerson H. Tiller, Internet Business Method Patents,
in PATENTS IN THE KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY 259 (Wesley M.
Cohen & Stephen A. Merrill eds., 2003), available at http://
8. See, e.g., Ronald J. Mann, The Role of Patents in Venture-
Backed Software Start-Ups, ACAD. ADVISORY COUNCIL BULL., Apr.
2007, at 1, 5, available at http://www.pff.org/issues-pubs/ip/
that patents play a “role of considerable importance” for
investments in software-based start-up companies).
9. See id.
This distinctive attribute of patents has long been
But if we never needed, or do not now need,
patents as bait for inventors, we may still need
them, in some instances, as a lure to
investors. . . . [I]ndustrial history discloses
that [giant] corporations, at times and to some
extent, have been prodded into undertaking
such research and into developing
improvements because of the threat of
competition from occasional “outsiders,”
armed with patent monopolies, and supplied
with funds by a few private enterprisers.
Thus, paradoxically, monopoly may evoke
competition: The threat from patent
monopolies in the hands of such “outsiders”
may create a sort of competition—a David
versus Goliath competition—which reduces
the inertia of some huge industrial
aggregations that might otherwise be
Picard v. United Aircraft Corp., 128 F.2d 632, 642-43
(2d Cir. 1942) (Frank, J., concurring). This competitive
tension between small businesses with patents and large
businesses with market power engenders innovations
that might otherwise have never come into being.
When patent rights are diminished, these systemic
benefits are eroded. The lower court’s new rule has
already been widely cited to exclude from patent
eligibility innovative methods that would previously
have been protected. If patentees and investors doubt
that the patent laws protect the fruit of their efforts,
which increasingly take the form of method inventions,
then why labor or invest at all? If a giant corporation
knows that patent rights are unavailable or offer only
narrow protection, why respect the ownership claim of
a smaller competitor? Robust patent protection of
information-based technologies is essential to
maintaining the innovation engine that is American small
II. The Machine-or-Transformation Test Calls the
Patentability of Many Landmark Inventions Into
The Federal Circuit has imposed an arbitrarily rigid
test that conflicts with Congressional intent, this Court’s
precedent, and the settled expectations of the creative
and investment communities. In re Bilski, 545 F.3d 943,
954 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (adopting the machine-or-
transformation test). This test subverts scientific and
Innumerable inventions over the decades have been
protected by method claims that are neither apparatus-
tied nor transformation-reciting. Some were pivotal
discoveries of far-reaching economic and social
consequence. Had the Federal Circuit’s “machine-or-
transformation” requirement prevailed at the time,
these inventions would likely not have earned patent
protection and their proven capacity to beneficially
shape our world would likely not have been realized.
Such effects may not have been intended by the
Federal Circuit, but they are the ineluctable result of
the machine-or-transformation test.10 The following are
examples of issued but expired patents for momentous
inventions that, experience and common sense dictate,
should be eligible for patent protection.
Few would expect that foundational inventions in FM
radio would fall outside the patent system. Yet, consider
U.S. Patent No. 1,342,885, granted to Edwin Armstrong,
the so-called father of FM radio, for inventing a process
which was rapidly adopted in nearly all radio
communication, and remains to this day a standard
approach used in radios, TVs, cell phones and other
wireless devices. It involves converting, or shifting, the
received radio signal from its broadcast frequency to a
lower, so-called “intermediate” frequency for processing.
This dramatically reduces the cost of receivers, and
simplifies receiver design. Claim 1 of the Armstrong
1. The method of amplifying and receiving
high frequency electrical oscillatory energy
which comprises, combining the incoming
energy with locally generated high frequency
continuous oscillations of a frequency differing
from said incoming energy by a third readily-
amplifiable high frequency, converting the
combined energy by suitable means to
produce said readily-amplifiable high
frequency oscillations, amplifying the third
said high frequency oscillations, and detecting
and indicating the resulting amplified
10. We note in Section III below some of the untoward
results of decisions which rely on Bilski’s narrow view of patent
Claim 1 does not recite a machine or apparatus and
therefore does not meet the machine prong of the test.
The claim involves a series of “combining,” “amplifying”
and “converting” steps. But these steps are performed on
“energy” (i.e., a signal), and therefore this claim would ill-
qualify for protection under the transformation prong of
the test because no “article” is transformed. See In re
Nuijten, 500 F.3d 1346, 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (holding that
signals are transitory and intangible, and therefore do not
qualify as “manufactures” or “articles”). Yet it is clear that
the claim is directed to the operations of a radio receiver—
an invention made by man—and, as such, would
conventionally be understood to be eligible for patent
The vast field of information and signal processing
extends, of course, beyond radio, to such diverse areas of
endeavor as television, the Internet, computing, control
systems, image processing and medical imaging, not to
mention kitchen appliances, automobiles and countless
11. Similarly, claim 2 of U.S. Patent No. 4,200,770 to Martin
Hellman, et al., for “Cryptographic Apparatus and Method” and
claim 5 of U.S. Patent No. 3,959,770, to Louis Schaefer for a “Method
and Apparatus for Error Compensation in Multichannel Systems”
would fail the present Bilski test. The Hellman patent covers the
so-called public key encryption system, an invention of immense
significance to the world of data communication, effectively
making possible secure communications for modern e-commerce
and other types of transactions. While a transformation of data
arguably occurs, that data could as easily represent English
language text as a voltage measured in a circuit. Hence, the
transformation appears not to satisfy the Bilski criterion. The
Schaefer patent is directed to a system for detecting and
compensating for errors introduced by imperfect transmission
channels. Without error-correction techniques, there could be little
useful digital information transmission.
While the underlying “hardware” will embody some
of the advances achieved in these areas, often it is a
“method” where an invention resides: whether a way to
send more information over a given bandwidth
(e.g., more channels on a TV cable or fiber); a more
efficient means to store data; or a process for
transmitting information securely. The invention in
these instances is not in the machine but in the process
or algorithm12 followed by the machine. Obtaining patent
coverage only for the hardware embodiments of
inventions like these, but not for the process itself, often
fails to protect the inventions adequately. To establish
that certain parties are direct infringers, method claims
A more modern example than FM radio comes from
the world of wireless communications. Qualcomm’s U.S.
Patent No. 4,901,307, issued in 1990, discloses the
CDMA (carrier-division, multiple access) technology
that is at the heart of the dominant cell phone
transmission standard in use in this country. While much
of the claim set is devoted to apparatus claims, there is
also a significant group of method claims, beginning at
12. This use of the term “algorithm” is distinct from its
use in prior decisions of this Court, where it refers to
mathematical algorithms. See Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S.
63, 65 (1972). When referring to algorithms that are ineligible
because they define pure, unapplied, mathematical procedures,
we would suggest use of the adjective “mathematical” inasmuch
as the general use of the term “algorithm” refers to a series of
steps, not necessarily mathematical steps.
33. In a spread spectrum multiple access
communication system . . . a method for
providing high system user capacity . . .
comprising the steps of:
providing a plurality of system user
addressable narrow band information signals;
converting said plurality of system user
addressable narrow band information signals
into . . . wide band code-division-spread-
spectrum communication signals;
transmitting said plurality of code-division-
spread-spectrum communication signals
between system users;
receiving, at each respective system
user, . . . code-division-spread-spectrum
communication signals . . . ;
providing for each respective system user
an increase in system user realized average
signal power . . . ; and
converting, at each respective system user,
received address corresponding code-division-
spread-spectrum communication signals into
corresponding user addressable information
Manifestly, this claim does not recite steps that are
tied to a specific machine or apparatus. As in the FM radio
patent, this claim requires the manipulation of signals. But
signals are not articles, see Nuijten, 500 F.3d at 1356, and
the plain language of the machine-or-transformation test
would place in doubt the patent-eligibility of this claim.
Over the past decade, CDMA technology has been one of
the backbones of the cellular communications industry. The
fact that such technology could now be ineligible is a telling
indictment of the Bilski test’s incapacity to accommodate
Inventions in the fields of medical diagnostics and
treatments will also be thwarted by the machine-or-
transformation requirement. One such example is U.S.
Patent No. 4,459,286, titled “Coupled Haemophilus
Influenzae Type B Vaccine.” The inventor, Maurice Ralph
Hilleman, is hailed as the most prolific vaccine scientist of
the twentieth century by the National Inventors Hall of
Fame. He was singled out for “saving more lives than any
other scientist” and was inducted into that prestigious body
in 2007 with a citation to the ‘286 patent.13
Claim 6 of that patent reads:
6. A method of treating mammalian species
which comprises administering to said species
an immunologically effective amount of a
composition comprising a polysaccharide/
protein conjugate which comprises H. influenza
type b polysaccharide and a T-cell-stimulating
N. meningitidis serotype outer membrane
protein, said polysaccharide and protein being
coupled through 6-aminocaproic acid, and a
member of the group consisting of a
13. Invent.org, Hall of Fame, Maurice Ralph Hilleman,
http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/339.html (last visited Aug.
pharmaceutically-acceptable carrier, an
adjuvant, and a pharmaceutically-acceptable
carrier and adjuvant.
This claim does not, within its bounds, recite the
performance of any type of transformation. It simply
requires “administering” a composition. There may be a
transformation that results, in the animal subject receiving
the treatment, but such transformation does not occur in
the claimed method per se, as a result of which the “post-
facto” activity does not fall within the Federal Circuit’s test.
Furthermore, there is no machine or apparatus in this
claim. A polysaccharide/protein conjugate is a composition
of matter or a manufacture, but it is not a machine or
apparatus. Accordingly, this famed invention—and
numerous others that have been claimed in analogous
fashion—is also vulnerable to attack under the new test.14
14. Also susceptible is claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 4,068,003,
which is typical of many patents that claim methods of treatment
of disease using previously existing compounds (which may or
may not be patented in their own right). Claim 1 recites:
1. A method for the treatment of myasthenia which
comprises administering to a human suffering from
myasthenia a therapeutically effective amount of
Coenzyme Q having the formula:
wherein n is an integer from 7 to 10.
The impact of the machine-or-transformation test
on drug development and in vitro diagnostics
(i.e., laboratory testing) can only be detrimental. Patent
protection for new tests, new drugs and new uses of
known drugs (whether or not already approved for a
primary use) is needed in many instances to justify the
outsize expenses and risk in the process of conducting
clinical trials and securing FDA approval. There is no
indication the Federal Circuit contemplated this
These examples show that numerous claims
associated with epochal inventions would not have
satisfied either prong of the machine-or-transformation
test—thus demonstrating this Court’s wisdom in not
making such a test the measure of patent-eligibility and
the Federal Circuit’s clear error in doing so.
III. The Lower Court’s Ruling Has Already Sown
Doubt and Inconsistency As to What Methods
are Patent Eligible.
The Patent and Trademark Office’s own appellate
tribunal, the Board of Patent Appeals and
Interferences, cannot figure out how to construe the
machine-or-transformation test. Contradictory and
arbitrary decisions are issuing from that body already.
In one case, the Board decided that a “computerized
method performed by a data processor” was not eligible
because the data processor was “nothing more than a
general purpose computer,” which does not qualify as
“a particular machine or apparatus” under the Federal
Circuit’s test. See Ex parte Gutta, No. 2008-3000, 2009
WL 112393 (B.P.A.I. Jan. 15, 2009). By this reasoning,
computer-implemented inventions are singled out for
exclusionary treatment, ignoring the central role of
computers in modern technology.15
Surprisingly, the implications of the machine-or-
transformation test extend to statutory classes of
inventions other than methods, such as machines,
articles of manufacture and chemical compositions, even
though this Court has never applied either prong of the
test to any other statutory class. For example, one panel
of the Board, in another post-Bilski case, upheld a
computer program product claim as patent-eligible
because “[i]t has been the practice for a number of years
that a [claim] of this nature be considered statutory at
the USPTO as a product claim.” Ex parte Bo Li, No.
2008-1213, 2008 WL 4828137, at *5 (B.P.A.I. Nov. 6,
2008). Yet another panel disallowed a computer-program
product claim because the machine-or-transformation
test purportedly necessitated the rejection. See Ex parte
Cornea-Hasegan, No. 2008-4742, 2009 WL 86725
(B.P.A.I. Jan. 13, 2009).
In one of several post-Bilski federal court decisions,
the Northern District of California likewise held that
Bilski required the rejection of a method claim for
15. The Federal Circuit had sought to leave for another
day what a “particular” machine or apparatus is, and what
constitutes a requisite “tie.” In the meantime, however, Patent
Examiners are making up the rules as they go. The same goes
for some district court judges. See, e.g., DealerTrack, Inc. v.
Huber, No. 06-2335, 2009 WL 2020761, at *3-4 (C.D. Cal. July 7,
2009) (observing that the Federal Circuit did not apply its own
test to the facts of Bilski and relying on Board of Patent Appeals
and Interferences decisions to clarify the test).
verifying the validity of a credit card transaction over
the Internet. See CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions,
Inc., No. 04-03268, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26056 (N.D.
Cal., Mar. 27, 2009). The CyberSource judge observed
that, absent intervention by this Court, “[t]he closing
bell may be ringing for business method patents, and
their patentees may find they have become bagholders.”
Id. at *34.
The Eastern District of Texas, by contrast, took a
more cautious approach in Versata Software, Inc. v. Sun
Microsystems, Inc., No. 06-358, 2009 WL 1084412 (E.D.
Tex. Mar. 31, 2009), and denied a motion for judgment
on the pleadings, holding that its “interpretation of
Bilski is not so broad [as defendant argued].” Id. at *1.
The court explained that the Federal Circuit declined
to adopt a broad exclusion over software or any other
such category of subject matter beyond the exclusion
of claims drawn to fundamental principles and noted that
the process claim at issue is not, in any event, a software
claim. See id.
These helter-skelter rulings disrupt settled
expectations built upon the Federal Circuit’s en banc
opinion of fifteen years ago that a programmed general
purpose computer is patent-eligible because it “in effect
becomes a special purpose computer once it is
programmed to perform particular functions pursuant
to instructions from program software.” In re Alappat,
33 F.3d 1526, 1545 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (en banc). The Federal
Circuit’s machine-or-transformation test now heaps
doubt on years’ worth of applications and patents on
computer-implemented inventions.16 Decision-makers in
the Patent and Trademark Office and even the district
courts believe that Bilski overruled the Alappat
decision, although the Federal Circuit said no such thing.
IV. This Court Has Recognized That Section 101
Broadly Defines Patent-Eligible Subject Matter,
Which is Not Subject to a Narrow or Rigid Test.
Section 101 of the Patent Act defines the boundaries
of patent eligibility as follows:
Whoever invents or discovers any new and
useful process, machine, manufacture, or
composition of matter, or any new and useful
improvement thereof, may obtain a patent
therefor, subject to the conditions and
requirements of this title.
35 U.S.C. § 101. The language of the statute is broad,
covering any new and useful process, as this Court has
consistently recognized. The only so-called exception—
that natural phenomena or abstract ideas are
ineligible—is but a recognition that scientific principles
are not “new and useful” when they “reveal a
relationship that has always existed.” Parker v. Flook,
16. Prior to the Bilski decision, the USPTO had given clear
guidance to its examiners as to the kinds of claims for computer-
implemented inventions that it understood to pass muster
under Section 101. See Examination Guidelines for Computer-
Related Inventions, 61 Fed. Reg. 7478, 7481-86 (Feb. 28, 1996).
Now, its Board is struggling to find a consistent reading of
the Federal Circuit decision. That struggle exposes how
problematic the decision is.
437 U.S. 584, 593 n.15 (1978). This Court has never
replaced the broad text of Section 101 with a narrow or
rigid test for eligibility, and it should not do so here.
Reviewing the many so-called “bad” patents issued
by the Patent and Trademark Office, one may doubt
whether broad eligibility best achieves the innovation-
promoting goals of the patent system.17 But Section 101
addresses only whether a process is eligible subject
matter for a patent; the process must also satisfy
other statutory requirements such as novelty and
nonobviousness to be patentable. Particularly in light
of this Court’s reaffirmation of a broad and flexible test
for obviousness in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc.,
550 U.S. 398 (2007), many previously-granted “bad”
patents may be invalidated under Section 103.
The PTO’s allowance rate has already plummeted
without resort to a narrowing construction of Section
101. Furthermore, if Section 101 is problematic in its
unambiguous breadth, this Court has recognized that
Congress is the competent and constitutionally
appropriate institution to address such policy concerns.
17. Many criticisms of business method patents focus on
perceived differences between them and other patents issued
by the PTO, and harbor a fallacious assumption that business
method patents are “weaker” or “less valuable” than other
patents. In a statistical sampling, Internet business method
patents cited a mean of 23 prior art references whereas all other
patents cited only 15 prior art references. This statistic suggests
that Internet business method patents are examined in view of
more prior art references and therefore undergo more scrutiny
than other patents. Thus, the casual claim that business methods
make “bad” patents is unsupported by the numbers. See Allison
& Tiller, supra, at 268.
A. The machine-or-transformation test is
inconsistent with the text of the statute as
interpreted by this Court.
Under Section 101, “any new and useful process”
is eligible for patent protection, so long as it satisfies
the additional statutory requirements of patentability
such as novelty and nonobviousness. Recognizing the
breadth of patent-eligible subject matter, this Court has
explained that Congress “plainly contemplated that the
patent laws would be given wide scope.” Diamond v.
Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 308 (1980); see also id. at
309 (noting that “Congress intended statutory subject
matter to ‘include anything under the sun that is made
The text of the statute is clear, and nothing in Section
101 or this Court’s precedent suggests that a process
may be “new and useful” only if it “is tied to a particular
machine or apparatus” or “transforms a particular
article into a different state or thing.” Bilski, 545 F.3d
at 954. Indeed, the machine-or-transformation test is a
narrowing departure from Section 101’s permissive
definition of patent-eligible subject matter, and the
Federal Circuit has thereby turned the law upside down,
making touchstones of eligibility into requirements.
Laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract
ideas (e.g., in the guise of mathematical algorithms) are
not eligible under Section 101. Diamond v. Diehr, 450
U.S. 175, 185 (1981). They are excluded because
scientific truths are not new and useful—they have
“always existed,” waiting to be discovered, and should
be free for all to use. Flook, 437 U.S. at 593 n.15. This
Court has never held that Section 101 requires a
narrower test than is prescribed by its text: If a process
is new and useful, it is eligible subject matter. But if
instead a process defines a law of nature, which has
always existed but has only recently been discovered, it
is not eligible. Only a useful application of a law of
nature is eligible.
The court below mistook a sufficient condition for
eligibility under Section 101 to be a necessary one.
Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63 (1972), on which the
Federal Circuit primarily relied, stands only for the
familiar principle that “one may not patent an idea.” Id.
at 71 (explaining its holding “in a nutshell”). Yes, the
Benson Court invoked the machine-or-transformation
test, but it did so only to provide “the clue” to eligibility
in that case, that is, a sufficient condition, not a
necessary condition in all cases. See id. at 70.
The Court’s more recent decision in Diehr resolves
all doubt on this score. Diehr explains that Benson
“stand[s] for no more than these long-established
principles,” that “laws of nature, natural phenomena,
and abstract ideas” are unpatentable. Diehr, 450 U.S.
at 185. Indeed, the Benson Court itself rejected the
notion that the machine-or-transformation test is
essential to the Section 101 inquiry. 409 U.S. at 71
(dismissing the argument that “a process patent must
be either tied to a particular machine or apparatus or
must operate to change articles or materials to a
‘different state or thing’”).
This Court’s recent decisions in the patent domain
confirm that the capacious criteria for patent eligibility
are not to be replaced with formulaic tests, even if doing
so would, in the eyes of some, improve the patent
system. Thus, the KSR Court rejected the Federal
Circuit’s “rigid approach” to obviousness under the
teaching, suggestion, or motivation (TSM) test in favor
of a “functional approach” that better fit the open-ended
terms of the statute. KSR, 550 U.S. at 415. The TSM
test and the machine-or-transformation test are the
product of honorable efforts to understand and apply
key terms in the Patent Act, but they share the flaw of
instituting the type of “rigid and mandatory formulas”
that this Court disfavors. Id. at 419. This Court has
consistently disallowed tests that reduce broad or
flexible patent doctrines to such rigid formulas. See, e.g.,
MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 132
n.11 (2007) (rejecting the “reasonable apprehension of
suit” test in favor a less rigid, traditional approach to
declaratory judgment jurisdiction); eBay Inc. v.
MercExchange, LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006) (rejecting an
automatic grant of injunctive relief in favor of traditional
Even the court below recognized that the rigid
machine-or-transformation test might not adapt well to
changing technology. Bilski, 545 F.3d at 956. But rather
than retreat from its test, the Federal Circuit explained
that “the Supreme Court may ultimately decide to alter
or perhaps even set aside this test to accommodate
emerging technologies.” Id. In other words, the Federal
Circuit not only recognizes that its rigid test is not
required by the statutory language—since the test may
admittedly be set aside—but envisions that this Court
will “update” the statute’s meaning to best effectuate
the purposes of the Patent Act over time. Such updating
is not within the judicial role, and indeed, this Court
has not strayed from its consistent interpretation of
Section 101’s text. The test for eligibility is broad, but
also simple: Any new and useful process is patent-
eligible subject matter.
B. If Section 101’s broad provision of eligibility
leads to bad patents, Congress, not the courts,
should amend the statute.
Many in the media and academia have argued that
the patent system is broken because the PTO has issued
patents on how to dust a room, use a laser pointer to
play with a cat, or the like. But for at least two reasons,
this Court should not respond to the system’s perceived
shortcomings (which have little, if anything, to do with
the subject-matter eligibility question) by imposing a
rigid test for patent-eligible subject matter.
First, Section 101 addresses only eligibility, and the
Patent Act includes several other requirements of
patentability that can filter out “bad” patents. For
example, inventions must be novel and nonobvious to
warrant patent protection. See 35 U.S.C. §§ 102, 103;
see also Diehr, 450 U.S. at 190 (“The question therefore
of whether a particular invention is novel [or nonobvious]
is ‘wholly apart from whether the invention falls into a
category of statutory subject matter.’”). This Court’s
recent decision in KSR elevates the nonobviousness
requirement to a broader, more flexible form, and KSR
may prove to be an invaluable tool for separating the
wheat from the chaff. There is no need to “fix” the patent
system by stretching the meaning of an unambiguous
text to create an unnecessary filter.
Second, as this Court has recognized, it is
Congress’s role to remedy any deficiencies in Section
101.18 See Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. at 317
[W]e are without competence to entertain
these arguments [concerning the hazards of
a broad reading of Section 101]. . . . The choice
we are urged to make is a matter of high
policy for resolution within the legislative
process after the kind of investigation,
examination, and study that legislative bodies
can provide and courts cannot.
Flook, 437 U.S. at 595 (“Difficult questions of policy
concerning the kinds of [computer] programs that may
be appropriate for patent protection and the form and
duration of such protection can be answered by
Congress on the basis of current empirical data not
equally available to this tribunal.”). Because the
machine-or-transformation test departs from the
unambiguous text of the statute and governing
precedent, this Court should not follow the Federal
Circuit’s narrowing approach even if it harbors doubts
about the expansiveness of Section 101 as written.
18. The existence of “business method” patents has not
escaped congressional notice. Indeed, in response to State Street
Bank & Trust Co. v. Signature Financial Group, Inc., 149 F.3d
1368 (Fed. Cir. 1998), and its progeny, Congress amended the
Patent Act to address questions relating to business method
patents. See, e.g., 35 U.S.C. § 273(a)(3). Despite the existence of
such patents (and calls for their extinction) for over a decade,
Congress has repeatedly—and, we submit, wisely—declined to
revisit the scope of patentable subject matter.
C. The patent eligibility of petitioners’ claims
turns on whether the abstract concept of
hedging is applied to a particular use.
Managing risk in commercial transactions appears
to be “useful” in the abstract. To be deemed useful
under Section 101, however, claims must not be directed
to laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas.
Thus, one must weigh whether Bilski and Warsaw’s
claims run afoul of the prohibition on abstract ideas. The
BPLA believes this is a close call, not because a risk
management method that relies on hedging is
automatically abstract under Section 101, but because
the specific wording of petitioners’ claims may warrant
Claim 1 is limited to hedging risk in commodity
consumption transactions only in its preamble. The body
of the claim does not refer to consumption risk. A
preamble term not referenced in the body of the claim
typically is not considered limiting. See, e.g., Schumer
v. Lab. Computer Sys., Inc., 308 F.3d 1304, 1310 (Fed.
Cir. 2002). The claims at issue are therefore arguably
directed to an abstract idea divorced from any particular
application. If so, such claims do not define statutory
subject matter under this Court’s precedent, but are a
generic statement of the concept of hedging. See
Benson, 409 U.S. at 67 (“Phenomena of nature, though
just discovered, mental processes, and abstract
intellectual concepts are not patentable, as they are the
basic tools of scientific and technological work.”).
The distinction between ineligible abstract ideas and
patent-eligible processes depends on application.
See id. (explaining that eligibility “must come from the
application . . . to a new and useful end.”). An abstract
idea must be applied to a particular use to be patentable,
and it is the application, not the idea itself, that may be
protected. By contrast, where an applicant seeks to
patent the idea itself, he thereby purports to monopolize
the concept, unconstrained by a particular application
to a new and useful end. Claims that depend on human
judgment for their application, or claims directed to an
idea that cannot be separated in principle from the steps
necessary to implement it, are probable casualties of
the bar on patenting abstract ideas.
The claims at issue are susceptible of varied readings
and, without the written description and drawings
(which are not public information), one could fairly
conclude that they define nothing more than the general
idea of hedging investments by balancing risk positions.
The claims lack instruction as to how to identify
participants with a “counter-risk position” or how to
“initiat[e] a series of transactions” to balance risk.
See Bilski, 545 F.3d at 949.
As written (and notwithstanding any concrete
embodiments that may have been disclosed and that
might have supported narrow, non-preemptive claims),
the claimed steps are not concrete steps for a particular
application; they require human judgment. They are
even more abstract than the algorithm for calculating
alarm limits in Flook, which was at least directed to the
narrower domain of signaling inefficiency or danger in
the operation of a catalytic converter. See Flook, 437
U.S. at 585.
Because the steps in Bilski and Warsaw’s claims
could describe any hedging process, they may fairly be
seen as attempting to preempt the very concept of
hedging. The preamble’s reference to the hedging of
commodity consumption risk appears to be immaterial
to an assessment of what is being claimed.
On the other hand, a specific method for hedging
risk, according to a defined process that does not require
the exercise of human judgment, could very well be
patent eligible, whether or not that method depends on
computers or other apparatus. As long as a fundamental
principle is not thereby preempted, there is no reason
that the invention cannot qualify as a “new and useful
process” under Section 101. The eligibility of the
hedging method for a patent turns, in the end, on the
details of the application’s disclosure or the prosecution
history, and cannot be determined in a vacuum. The
BPLA urges the Court to vacate the lower court’s
decision and remand for further consideration of Bilski
and Warsaw’s process under a broad test for subject
For the foregoing reasons, the Court should reject
the lower court’s machine-or-transformation test and
reaffirm that courts must weigh relevant facts to
determine if a method claim defines an eligible invention
or an ineligible abstraction.
STEVEN J. HENRY
JOEL R. LEEMAN
ILAN N. BARZILAY
Counsel of Record
JOHN J. STICKEVERS
AND SACKS, P.C.
JAKUB M. MICHNA
600 Atlantic Avenue
SUNSTEIN KANN MURPHY
Boston, MA 02210
& TIMBERS LLP
125 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110
Counsel for Amicus Curiae
Boston Patent Law Association