30 March 2012

Prometheus: Natural Laws Can't Be Patented

The Supreme Court of the United States has re-affirmed the long-standing principle that laws of nature can not be patented, via its March 20 decision, Prometheus Laboratories v. Mayo Collaborative Services.

You can find the decision with one click.

I last had something to say about the underlying litigation in this blog a little over a year ago, when the Federal Circuit held in favor of Prometheus Labs,

Coming on top of the June 2010 decision in Bilski this is a new piece of evidence that this court believes patent laws have become too restrictive, that the domain of truly common knowledge, accessible to all, needs to be widened.,

In Bilski, you may remember, the Supreme Court reinvigorated a similar principle, one that disallows the patenting of abstract ideas. If carried to its logical conclusion, the argument that you can't patent abstractions would dis-allow all software patents, since "software" is by definition an abstraction. It isn't at all clear how logical the Court is willing to be, but what is clear is that in general it has decided to trim the bush of patentability.

On Monday, March 26, the Supreme Court sent a similar case, Myriad Genetics, back to the Federal Circuit for reconsideration in light of its new Prometheus ruling.  Myriad Genetics isn't exactly on all fours, I would caution the patent-dove side of that case against over-confidence at this point. But SCOTUS does seem to be dropping hints that its work of reforming patent law is not yet complete, and that it would apreciate reinforcements.

I'll just offer one brief quote from the Prometheus decision for now. In its unanimous decision, by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court cited an amici brief by an important line-up of friends, "The American Medical Association, the American College of Medical Genetics, the American Hospital Association, the American Society of Human Genetics, the Association of American Medical Colleges,the Association for Molecular Pathology, and other medical organizations" who together said that if "claims to exclusive rights over the body’s natural responses to illness and medical treatment are permitted to stand, the result will be a vast thicket of exclusive rights over the use of critical scientific data that must remain widely available if physicians areto provide sound medical care."

So they are trimming a "thicket" (as above) rather than a bush.  I stand corrected.
I think it's the right move, whatever vegetative metaphor is to be employed.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.