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26 March 2012, 15:06

US Supreme Court: Laws of nature are not patentable

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Last Tuesday, 20 March, the US Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the patent for a simple diagnostic test held by Prometheus Labs, a medical technology company based in San Diego, California. With this ruling, the Supreme Court threw out a decision by the Federal Circuit's Court of Appeals that had previously upheld the controversial patent. "Laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas" are not patentable under US law – but their particular inventive application is.

However, in the now published rulingPDF, the judges write that the Prometheus patent attempts to protect a "well-understood, routine, conventional activity", and that scientists in the field had frequently applied the method in question in their own research. "Simply appending conventional steps, specified at a high level of generality" is not sufficient to create patentable applications from such laws of nature, the judges said in their decision, invalidating core components of the Prometheus patent.

Patent number 6,355,623 had been challenged by Prometheus competitor Mayo Collaborative Services. It describes a method for testing metabolites in a patient's body in order to optimise the dosage of medication for treating Crohn's disease, a gastrointestinal disorder.

Patent experts anticipate that the ruling will have an effect on a case that deals with the patentability of isolated human DNA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) US civil rights organisation also hopes that the ruling will provide new guidelines and add clarity to the Court of Appeal's inconsistently differentiated decisions on software patents and the patentability of business methods. It is reported by Patently-O that the USPTO has issued interim guidancePDF in light of the ruling.

(Stefan Krempl / ehe)

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