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June 22, 2006

U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Rule on Metabolite Case

The case of LabCorp v. Metabolite had the potential to clarify and either expand or contract the reach of patent law. In layperson's terms, the case involved a patent on a method for detecting a vitamin B deficiency in a person by: (1) analyzing the person's blood to determine whether the person has an elevated level of a certain amino acid; and (2) "correlating" the elevated level with the vitamin B deficiency. The claim was written and interpreted so broadly that it could cover a doctor reading the blood test results and performing the "correlating" step of the process in his or her mind. Imagine a doctor reading the blood test results and thinking, "Aha! These results indicate a vitamin B deficiency."

The case was being closely watched because it raised the question whether a patent could cover a method that is performed at least partially by a human mind. But it had even broader implications for the patentability of medical techniques, software, business methods, and more

I'm referring to the case in the past tense because the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal of LabCorp v. Metabolite as being improvidently granted. For non-lawyers, this means that the Court at first decided to review the case, but then changed its mind, deciding that it had been wrong to consider making a decision in the first place. The result is that the patent still stands -- at least for now -- and that the law remains unchanged, and as murky as ever at the edges.

Posted by Robert at June 22, 2006 3:37 PM
category: Software Patents

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