The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a case that is expected to have huge implications on the hotly contested federal standards for patentable inventions. The issue in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. is what separates an "obvious" extension of an existing product from a truly patentable innovation. To grossly oversimplify: under current law, an invention is essentially not patentable if it can be considered it "obvious."
While the case specifically involves a certain gas pedal technology, the impact could be wide-reaching. Though large companies like Cisco and Microsoft have supported a reform of the current patent system, other corporate giants like General Electric and DuPoint have argued that changes to the law could prove disastrous. But, it's unclear what effect the Supreme Court's decision — expected in July of 2007 — might have on entrepreneurs. In the current intellectual property landscape, where simply holding a patent for wireless E-mail technology won the so-called "patent troll" NTP some $612 million from RIM, the makers of the Blackberry, the line between true innovation and intellectual property has often been blurred.
By keeping the standards for patents rather low, does our current system actually hurt innovative entrepreneurs? Or will a revamped patent system end up devaluing the patents currently held by entrepreneurs and small business owners?