Patents pending

A Canadian judge rules that business processes can be awarded patents.

Intellectual-property law has become a murky domain, as countries around the world struggle to define the patentability of virtual products and processes. But in Canada, a recent Federal Court decision has affirmed that “a ‘business method’ can be patented in certain circumstances” — which experts say brings much-needed clarity to the issue.

The decision, rendered in October by Justice Michael Phelan, allows to patent its “one-click” ordering system, settling a 12-year dispute. The ruling quashes a previous federal patent commissioner decision, which found that business methods are “non-patentable subject matter.” But because the simplified ordering process has a “practical application,” Phelan, who cited legal precedents in other jurisdictions, concluded that it warrants protection under Canadian patent law.

Predictably, the decision was lauded by patent lawyers, who predicted a rush of applications. But according to Mark Eisen, vice-president of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada, the more important implication of the ruling — if it stands — is that it makes Canada more competitive on the international stage. “Technology has evolved, and we have to have a flexible and robust patent system that evolves as well,” he says.