U.S. Patent and Trademark Office building

Laws and Facts of Patent Eligibility and Medical Diagnostics

This post is part of our Eighth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium. You can read all of the posts in the series here. Review the conference’s full agenda and register for the event on the Petrie-Flom Center’s website.

By Jacob S. Sherkow

For this year’s Health Law Year in P/Review, I’ll be talking about § 101, that most enigmatic of laws from the patent statute. Like many other areas of intellectual property, patent law has a threshold subject matter inquiry embodied in statute—this is § 101—which reads, “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.” But because any “competent draftsman” of patent applications could claim an invention as, say, “a process” rather merely an idea, courts have, almost since the statute’s first enactment in 1790, ignored the language of the text entirely. You should too. Instead, it has for almost all of its history, been interpreted in the following manner: “Anything under the sun made by man” is patentable subject matter, save “abstract ideas” or “natural laws, phenomena, or products.” Sure: defining what is a “natural” law is tough, but it’s not a phrase so devoid of application as to make it nonsense. (Unless you’re a complexity theorist.) Read More