Congress is considering important patent eligibility reforms that will have far-reaching implications for innovative industries like the technology, life sciences, and medical diagnostic sectors. Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property held a series of hearings on The State of Patent Eligibility in America. Senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, convened these hearings after hosting a series of roundtables with stakeholders to address ambiguity in the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit decisions addressing what inventions are eligible for patent protection.
The issue these hearings explored arose from section 101 of the patent statute (35 U.S.C. § 101), which defines the types of inventions that are eligible for patent protection and thereby the contours of our innovation ecosystem. For something to be patented, it has to be new, non-obvious, and useful, with the only exceptions being laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. However, recent Supreme Court decisions broadened these exceptions, making it harder to patent things like medical diagnostic tests, since courts found that these inventions specifying correlations between compounds in the bodies and diseases are merely “natural phenomena.”