New Rules on Patents

The US Supreme Court raised the bar for obtaining patents on new products that combine elements of pre-existing inventions. I'm glad they're doing something. The patent system in the US is a mess.

If the combination results from nothing more than “ordinary innovation” and “does no more than yield predictable results,” the court said in a unanimous opinion, it is not entitled to the exclusive rights that patent protection conveys. “Were it otherwise,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the opinion, “patents might stifle, rather than promote, the progress of useful arts.”

Because most inventions combine previously known elements, the court’s approach to deciding what sort of combination is so “obvious” as to be ineligible for patent protection will have widespread application. The result will be to make patents harder to obtain and defend.

“Granting patent protection to advances that would occur in the ordinary course without real innovation retards progress,” Justice Kennedy said. He added that such patents were also undesirable because they might deprive earlier innovations of “their value or utility.”

The opinion was unanimous.