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The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday, June 1, that it would take up a major issue in intellectual-property law: whether patents should be granted for what are known as business methods. Many financial, accounting, and e-commerce firms have rushed to obtain patent protection for such things as ways to structure financial products, manage organizations, or transact business on the Internet.
The court said it would consider a case involving a method for hedging risk in commodities trading. A claimed patent on this process, filed in 1997 by inventors Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw, was rejected by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on the basis that it simply involved a mental process and did not need any technology to implement. That rejection has been upheld though various appeals.
By agreeing to weigh in on the case, the high court is venturing into controversial terrain. Critics of business-method patents say it was never the intent of the law to protect such things, which in their view are often far closer to abstract concepts or mathematical algorithms rather than physical inventions. Proponents say they are key to promoting innovation in today's knowledge- and service-based economy.
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