The Economist has a nice report on the recent US Supreme Court patent decisions, KSR International v Teleflex and Microsoft v AT&T.
" How non-obvious an idea needs to be to qualify for a patent has long
vexed America's legal minds. The invention had to be “something more
than the work of a skilled mechanic,” the Supreme Court opined in 1850.
In 1941 it set the bar higher, requiring a “flash of genius”. In 1952
Congress loosened the standard, stating that the idea simply needed not
to be obvious “to a person having ordinary skills”.
This week's ruling provides the contours of a modern patent policy, by
implicitly stating that inventors ought to be familiar with practices
from other fields and that combining existing technologies is not
enough, says Dominique Guellec of the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development. It may thus end the boom in reviled
“business-method patents”, which often entail the application of
obvious things, such as shopping or auctions, to an online setting."