Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Process Patents and Cigarette Papers
Dear Rich: Is it possible to patent a method of sale for a product component? For example, let's say cigarettes existed but nobody had ever separately sold cigarette filters and papers. Would a system for selling such product components be patentable? This may be a bad example, but what I'm trying to find out is whether I could patent the way a particular product is sold by breaking it into separate parts and giving the consumer a more tailored choice. I'm so glad you asked. The short answer is 'probably not,' and yes, your analogy as to the novelty of component sales of filters and cigarette papers may not be a good one.The Dear Rich staff consulted with patent attorney David Pressman, who said that since the method doesn't transform physically and is not tied to technology, it would not qualify as patentable subject matter. The Federal Circuit, a federal appeals court for patents, is currently considering In re Bilski, a case that could affect your situation. Bilski is a dispute over whether a computer model that assesses risks for hedge funds (how timely) is patentable. The USPTO held that the process was not patentable because it is not tied to a particular machine, nor does it transform a tangible article to a different state. If the Federal Circuit upholds this standard, your process claim (and many other business methods) will not be considered as patentable subject matter. If the Bilski case is reversed (it can be appealed to the Supreme Court), your process is novel, and it provides a new and unexpected result, it may be patentable.