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Supreme Court: When Do Ideas Deserve Patents?

Publication Date: 
November 18, 2009
Adi Narayan

Professor Mark Lemley, an expert in intellectual property, is quoted in Time Magazine on patenting business methods:

It all started in 1997 when a little-known company wanted to patent a method for letting customers of utility companies pay a fixed, predictable sum each month. The patent office rejected their application on the grounds that it was "an abstract idea that simply solves a mathematical problem."

Huge legal expenses and 13 years later, the two men behind the case, Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw, had their day in the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 9. Most legal experts though, agreed that the duo had no chance of victory. "I don't think anyone other than Bilski thinks that Bilski deserves a patent," says Mark Lemley, a professor of law at Stanford University. (See the 50 best inventions of 2009.)