The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Bilski case Monday afternoon. Click here for a transcript of the arguments. Here are a few of the highlights from Bilski’s argument:
JUSTICE GINSBURG: But you say you would say tax avoidance methods are covered, just as the process here is covered. So an estate plan, tax avoidance, how to resist a corporate takeover, how to choose a jury, all of those are patentable?
MR. JAKES: They are eligible for patenting as processes, assuming they meet the other statutory requirements.
JUSTICE BREYER: So that would mean that every — every businessman — perhaps not every, but every successful businessman typically has something. His firm wouldn’t be successful if he didn’t have anything that others didn’t have. He thinks of a new way to organize. He thinks of a new thing to say on the telephone. He thinks of something. That’s how he made his money.
And your view would be — and it’s new, too, and it’s useful, made him a fortune — anything that helps any businessman succeed is patentable because we reduce it to a number of steps, explain it in general terms, file our application, granted?
MR. JAKES: It is potentially patentable, yes.
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JUSTICE BREYER: So you are going to answer this question yes. You know, I have a great, wonderful, really original method of teaching antitrust law, and it kept 80 percent of the students awake. They learned things – (Laughter.)
JUSTICE BREYER: It was fabulous. And I could probably have reduced it to a set of steps and other teachers could have followed it. That you are going to say is patentable, too?
MR. JAKES: Potentially.
And here are some of the highlights from the government’s argument:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: No ruling in this case is going to change State Street. It wasn’t looking at process or the meaning of "process." It was looking at something else.
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CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Mr. Stewart, I thought I understood your argument up until the very last footnote in your brief. And you say this is not –simply the method isn’t patentable because it doesn’t involve a machine. But then you say but it might be if you use a computer to identify the parties that you are setting a price between and if you used a microprocessor to calculate the price. That’s like saying if you use a typewriter to type out the — the process then it is patentable. I — I — it — that takes away everything that you spent 53 pages establishing.
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CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: But if you look at your footnote, that involves the most tangential and insignificant use of a machine. And yet you say that might be enough to take something from patentability to not patentable.
MR. STEWART: And all we’ve said is that it might be enough; that is, hard questions will arise down the road as to where do you draw the line, to what extent must the machine or the transformation be central —
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So you think it’s a hard question. If you develop a process that says look to the historical averages of oil consumption over a certain period and divide it by 2, that process would not be patentable. But if you say use a calculator, then it — then it is?
MR. STEWART: I think if it’s simply using a calculator for its preexisting functionality to crunch numbers, very likely that would not be enough. But what we see in some analogous areas is that the computer will be programmed with new software, it will be given functionality it didn’t have before in order to allow it to perform a series of calculations, and that gets closer to the line. And again —
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, your footnote — I don’t mean to dwell on it — it says to identify counterparties to the transactions. So that if what you’re trying to get is the — the baker who sells bread, because you are going to hook him up with the grocer who sells, you know, in the grocery store, if you punched in in your search station, you know, give me all the bakers in Washington, that would make it patentable?
MR. STEWART: Again, we are — we are not saying it would be patent eligible. We would have to review those facts, and the PTO would have to review those facts in the context of an actual application.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is simply that we don’t want the Court, for instance, in the area of software innovations or medical diagnostic techniques to be trying to use this case as the vehicle for identifying the circumstances in which innovations of that sort would and would not be patent eligible, because the case really doesn’t present any — any question regarding those technologies. And therefore, we —
If those highlights, left you wanting more, check out the following posts that give some additional context to the cold transcript or read the tea leaves, as we all wait for a decision, likely this spring: