After a decade-plus battle at the Canadian Patent Office and Patent Review Panel, the Canadian Federal Court made the following ruling on business method patents:
At its core, the question is whether a “business method” is patentable under Canadian law. For the reasons which follow, the Court concludes that a “business method” can be patented in appropriate circumstances.
In making the ruling, the Federal Court made some interesting, almost State-Street-like, findings:
There are thus three important elements in the test for art as articulated by Wilson J.: i) it must not be a disembodied idea but have a method of practical application; ii) it must be a new and inventive method of applying skill and knowledge; and iii) it must have a commercially useful result: Progressive Games, Inc. v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents), 177 F.T.R. 241 (T.D.) at para. 16, aff’d (2000), 9 C.P.R. (4th) 479 (F.C.A.).Also there was this also-interesting interpretation of Bilski:
The practical application requirement ensures that something which is a mere idea or discovery is not patented – it must be concrete and tangible. This requires some sort of manifestation or effect or change of character. However, it is important to remain focused on the requirement for practical application rather than merely the physicality of the invention. The language in Lawson must not be interpreted to restrict the patentability of practical applications which might, in light of today’s technology, consist of a slightly less conventional “change in character” or effect that through a machine such as a computer.
Jurisdictions with patent regimes similar to our own have also struggled to pin down what is required to bring an idea or a discovery beyond simply that. As mentioned above, the US Supreme Court delivered the decision in Bilski/USSC quite recently, squarely addressing patentable processes. While the decision does not answer all questions of US patentability of business processes, it appears that the US Supreme Court rejected the “machine or transformation” test as in violation of the expansive interpretation which should be given to §101 (the equivalent to our s. 2) – they saw nothing in the statute or in the plain meaning of language which would require “process” to be tied to a machine or an article. In essence, they rejected the type of physicality advocated by the Commissioner. The majority called it “a useful and important clue, an investigative tool, for determining whether some claimed inventions are processes under § 101” (slip op. At 8). Four of the justices went on to discuss the changing nature of technology and the limitations posed by this type of thinking:Furthermore,
The machine-or-transformation test may well provide a sufficient basis for evaluating processes similar to those in the Industrial Age – for example, inventions grounded in a physical or other tangible form. But there are reasons to doubt whether the test should be the sole criterion for determining the patentability of inventions in the Information Age.
Read the entire opinion here (link)
There is no basis for the Commissioner’s assumption that there is a “tradition” of excluding business methods from patentability in Canada.
The Court finds that a purposive construction of the “system claims” (e.g. claim 44 and its associated dependant claims) clearly discloses a machine which is used to implement Amazon.com’s one-click ordering system. The described components (e.g. a computer) are essential elements in implementing an online ordering process. This is not merely “a mathematical formula” which could be carried on without a machine or simply a computer program. A machine is patentable under s. 2 of the Patent Act. The Commissioner herself found that “in form” the claims disclosed such an invention; it was only when she took a second step to subjectively consider the “substance” that she found otherwise. As discussed, this is unsupported in law. The Court therefore finds the machine claims to be patentable subject matter.Turning to the process claims, the Commissioner clearly erred by “parsing” the claims into their novel and obvious elements in order to assess patentability. When viewed as a whole it is clear that the claimed invention is a process which uses stored information and ‘cookies’ to enable customers to order items over the internet simply by ‘clicking on them’. It is accepted that the “one-click” method is novel; the Court finds that an online ordering system which facilitates this adds to the state of knowledge in this area.
It is undisputed that this invention has a commercially applicable result and is concerned with trade, industry and commerce. Indeed, its utilization in this very realm seems to be at the root of the Commissioner’s concern.
In light of the above, the Court finds the process claims to be a patentable as an art and process. As discussed at length earlier in this decision, there is no need to continue the analysis once this has been determined. There is no exclusion for “business methods” which are otherwise patentable, nor is there a “technological” test in Canadian jurisprudence. Even if there was some technological requirement, in this case the claims, when viewed as a whole, certainly disclose a technological invention.