According to well-established principles, one cannot patent natural laws or phenomena per se, but one can patent new and useful applications of those laws and phenomena. Justice Breyer’s opinion in Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings v. Metabolite Laboratories, Inc. applies this distinction to inventions exploiting natural relationships, such as a method of diagnosing a vitamin deficiency by observing elevated levels of an amino acid in a patient’s blood. Justice Breyer concludes that patenting a method based on observation and reasoning amounts to patenting the natural relationship itself—a result contrary to policy because it denies others a “basic tool of research.” In fact, the traditional dichotomy of principle and application suggests the opposite conclusion. These patents are dangerous, however, because of the critical role that knowledge plays in infringement. The difficulty of avoiding infringement—except by embracing ignorance—could force the abandonment of activities having substantial noninfringing uses, thereby conferring on the patent owner market power beyond the intended scope of the grant. Rather than condemn all patents based on useful observations of natural laws or phenomena, courts should concentrate on those with undesirable and unavoidable spill-over effects that cause avoidance or modification of activity not reserved exclusively to the patent owner.
Volume 93 - No. 3
- Note: Copyrighted Laws: Enabling and Preserving Access to Incorporated Private Standards
- Note: Embracing Ambiguity and Adopting Propriety: Using Comparative Law To Explore Avenues for Protecting the LGBT Population Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
- Note: Getting Back to Basics: Recognizing and Understanding the Swing Voter on the Supreme Court of the United States
- The Value of the Standard
- The Substantially Impaired Sex: Uncovering the Gendered Nature of Disability Discrimination
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