Judge Marylin Hall Patel, a federal district judge in the North District of California (San Francisco/Silicon Valley) since 1980 and Chief Judge in the District from 1997 – 2004, is a well known federal judge when it comes to intellectual property matters. For example, Judge Patel decided the Grokster case at the district court level, which eventually was affirmed by the Supreme Court, and she has decided many patent cases. When she speaks on IP matters, one would do well to listen
Therefore, her March 26, 2009 decision in Cybersource v. Retail Decisions is of no small significance. In this case Judge Patel applied In re Bilski to invalidate two business method patent claims in U.S. Patent No. 6,029,154, titled “Method and system for detecting fraud in a credit card transaction over the Internet.” The CAFC’s decision in Bilski requires that a process either be tied to a machine or apparatus or involve a transformation, and Judge Patel held that the ‘154 patent failed this “machine-or-transformation” test.
Judge Patel held that a credit card number is not a physical object, thereby failing the “transformation” test, and she rejected the argument that because the claims were tied to the Internet they satisfied the “machine” test, since “one cannot touch the Internet.”
At the conclusion of her opinion she stated:
In analyzing Bilski, one is led to ponder whether the end has arrived for business method patents, whose numbers swelled following the decision in State Street. Without expressly overruling State Street, the Bilski majority struck down its underpinnings. This caused one dissenter, Judge Newman, to write that State Street “is left hanging,” while another dissenter, Judge Meyer, registered “an emphatic ‘yes’” to rejecting State Street, and a third, Judge Rader, queried whether the court was willing to decide that the entire field of business patents is “undeserving of incentives for invention.” 545 F.3d at 995, 998, 1014. Although the majority declined say so explicitly, Bilski’s holding suggests a perilous future for most method patents.
The observations of several Justices suggest that this issue may be expected to receive serious consideration by the Supreme Court . . . The closing bell may be ringing for business method patents, and their patentees may find they have become bagholders.
In In re Lewis Ferguson, a March 6, 2009 decision from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the applicant sought to patent “a marketing paradigm for bringing products to market.” After the application was denied by the various levels of the Patent Office bureaucracy for lack of patentable subject matter, the applicant appealed. The CAFC court quoted this claim from the application as an example:
A paradigm for marketing software, comprising:
a marketing company that markets software from a plurality of different independent and autonomous software companies, and carries out and pays for operations associated with marketing of software for all of said different independent and autonomous software companies, in return for a contingent share of a total income stream from marketing of the software from all of said software companies, while allowing all of said software companies to retain their autonomy.
Novel and nonobvious? It may just be me, but if this isn’t a distribution system that’s been implemented a million times, I’ll be damned.
The CAFC didn’t like it either, but they didn’t even get that far. Relying on In re Bilski, 545 F.3d 943 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (en banc), the Court observed:
Applicants’ method claims are not tied to any particular machine or apparatus. Although Applicants argue that the method claims are tied to the use of a shared marketing force, a marketing force is not a machine or apparatus. As this court recently stated . . . a machine is a “‘concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices.’ This ‘includes every mechanical device or combination of mechanical powers and devices to perform some function and produce a certain effect or result.’” . . . . Applicants’ method claims are not tied to any concrete parts, devices, or combination of devices.
Nor do Applicants’ methods, as claimed, transform any article into a different state or thing. At best it can be said that Applicants’ methods are directed to organizing business or legal relationships in the structuring of a sales force (or marketing company). But as this court stated in Bilski, “[p]urported transformations or manipulations simply of public or private legal obligations or relationships, business risks, or other such abstractions cannot meet the test because they are not physical objects or substances, and they are not representative of physical objects or substances.”…
Applicants do assert, however, that “[a] company is a physical thing, and as such analogous to a machine.” But the paradigm claims do not recite “a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices,” . . . and as Applicants conceded during oral argument, “you cannot touch the company.”
Of course, Bilski is seeking to appeal the CAFC’s decision to the Supreme Court. If the appeal is accepted all bets are off on the “machine or transformation” test established by the CAFC in Bilski and applied here.
Here is a link to the case discussed above: In re Lewis Ferguson.
And here is a link to the Boston Patent Law Association’s (BPLA) brief urging certiorari and reversal in Bilski.