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Bilski decided
October 30, 2008

The decision is available here. It adopts the "machine-or-transformation" test for patentable subject matter. As stated by the majority:

The machine-or-transformation test is a two-branched inquiry; an applicant may show that a process claim satisfies § 101 either by showing that his claim is tied to a particular machine, or by showing that his claim transforms an article.

Click below for some quotes from the majority opinion. We'll have a more complete analysis soon.

Quotes from the majority opinion:

it is irrelevant that any individual step or limitation of such processes by itself would be unpatentable under § 101.

Therefore, we also conclude that the "useful, concrete and tangible result" inquiry is inadequate and reaffirm that the machine-or-transformation test outlined by the Supreme Court is the proper test to apply.

The machine-or-transformation test is a two-branched inquiry; an applicant may show that a process claim satisfies § 101 either by showing that his claim is tied to a particular machine, or by showing that his claim transforms an article. Certain considerations are applicable to analysis under either branch. First, as illustrated by Benson and discussed below, the use of a specific machine or transformation of an article must impose meaningful limits on the claim's scope to impart patent-eligibility. Second, the involvement of the machine or transformation in the claimed process must not merely be insignificant extra-solution activity.

As to machine implementation, Applicants themselves admit that the language of claim 1 does not limit any process step to any specific machine or apparatus. See Appellants' Br. at 11. As a result, issues specific to the machine implementation part of the test are not before us today. We leave to future cases the elaboration of the precise contours of machine implementation, as well as the answers to particular questions, such as whether or when recitation of a computer suffices to tie a process claim to a particular machine.

We will, however, consider some of our past cases to gain insight into the transformation part of the test. A claimed process is patent-eligible if it transforms an article into a different state or thing. This transformation must be central to the purpose of the claimed process. But the main aspect of the transformation test that requires clarification here is what sorts of things constitute "articles" such that their transformation is sufficient to impart patent-eligibility under § 101. It is virtually self-evident that a process for a chemical or physical transformation of physical objects or substances is patent-eligible subject matter.

The raw materials of many information-age processes, however, are electronic signals and electronically-manipulated data. And some so-called business methods, such as that claimed in the present case, involve the manipulation of even more abstract constructs such as legal obligations, organizational relationships, and business risks. Which, if any, of these processes qualify as a transformation or reduction of an article into a different state or thing constituting patent-eligible subject matter?

Our case law has taken a measured approach to this question, and we see no reason here to expand the boundaries of what constitutes patent-eligible transformations of articles.

So long as the claimed process is limited to a practical application of a fundamental principle to transform specific data, and the claim is limited to a visual depiction that represents specific physical objects or substances, there is no danger that the scope of the claim would wholly pre-empt all uses of the principle.

This court and our predecessor court have frequently stated that adding a data-gathering step to an algorithm is insufficient to convert that algorithm into a patent-eligible process.

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