Fun with Patenting Equations

Old news, but still interesting:

“IMAGINE that Albert Einstein were alive today and that he were just now formulating his theory of relativity. Could he get a patent on E=mc2 ?”

[Note: No, E=mc2 would probably count as a law of nature, which aren’t patentable, see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=870890 for example]

“Some patent experts contend Mr. Einstein just might be able to, thanks to a recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington.

The case in question — State Street Bank and Trust Company v. Signature Financial Group — had nothing to do with physics. Rather, at issue was a patent for a data-processing system for a so-called hub-and-spoke mutual fund partnership in which mutual funds pool their assets in an investment portfolio.

The appeals court’s ruling has been long awaited by financial services companies, which have resisted the idea that innovative approaches in their industry should be patented. Indeed, Visa and Mastercard filed an amicus brief in the case saying that they were doing just fine without patents, thank you.

But to no avail. The appeals court ruled on July 23 in favor of Signature Financial, upholding its patent.

In its ruling, the court said, ”We hold the transformation of data, representing discrete dollar amounts, by a machine through a series of mathematical calculations into a final share price, constitutes a practical application of a mathematical algorithm, formula, or calculation, because it produces ‘a useful, concrete, and tangible result.’ ”

Translation: If your mathematical formula has a practical end, you can probably patent it.”

NY Times article: Patents; An appeals court says a mathematical formula can be patented, if it is a moneymaker.

Here’s an example of a patented formula you might use in a business class:

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20030139988.html

Well, I can’t find it in the USPTO database or through Google Patent Search so maybe it has been withdrawn, but it’s a fascinating example of what can be patented.

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