Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pretzel Logic from the Supreme Court

I mentioned last year that the Bilski case was going to be heard by the Supreme Court. While the decision was clear that Bilski wasn't going to get his patent on his business process (which was more like a mental process than anything else), the rest of the decision to me is a confusing as a paper on non-linear rheology is to the Supremes.

Three separate opinions [1] were published, one supported by 5 justices except that 4 justices support all of it while Scalia supported most of it except for a couple of sections. Then there was the second opinion, supporting the first opinion [2] and this was signed by the remaining 4 justices. And then there is a third opinion written by Breyer, who already had supported the second opinion, but apparently not well enough that he still didn't have more to say. This last opinion was also supported by Scalia in lieu of his non-support of the two sections in the first opinion that he didn't agree with. So in the end, it was a 9 - 0 decision, except that at no point did all 9 sign on the the same opinion, and 2 justices signed on to 2 opinions. So does that make it 11 - 0? If you are curious, you can read the opinions here.

One thing that this split unanimous decision does make clear is that the lawyers will be guaranteed endless job security. Business method patents are still available, but just not the one Bilski applied for. There is no clear guidance to follow, so it's a free-for-all as to what is acceptable and what isn't, just the way lawyers like it.

[1] Why is a decision called an opinion?

[2] Why is a second opinion needed to support the first one? Are these people so insistent that the decision has be stated the way they want it? Can anybody name any other case where there are more than one report from the same group of decision makers supporting the same conclusion?

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