Plato and Patentability

The soul has been born often and has seen all things…there is nothing which it has not learned.- Meno by Plato.

Plato, in his story about Socrates and a slave boy, philosophized that we as human beings know all things, and that “learning” is merely a recollection of past knowledge. When I heard of this in school it sounded like philosophical “jibber-jabber.” I was too busy jotting down arrows to illustrate the flow of electrons in a nucleophilic attack. 

Yet, as I studied the Inventions Patentable statute today Plato’s words resonated throughout my mind as I read: “Idea of itself is not patentable.” 35 USC § 101, 38. Idea as a basis for patent. I began to think that knowledge, in the form of ideas is not new, as Plato suggested.

Furthermore the statute cites, Diamond v. Chakrabarty  “…issuance of patents does not embrace every discovery…laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable; discoveries that are manifestation of nature free to all men and reserved exclusively to none are not patentable.” 35 USC §101 (quoting Diamond v. Chakrabarty.). Interestingly, the Court placed abstract idea in the same list as physical phenomenon and laws of nature as if it were related to the two.

Again, Plato was on to something. Perhaps ideas are free in human nature, like natural phenomenon are free in physical nature. Perhaps Plato was right in that, knowledge is not novel but it is a mere re-discovery.

Indeed, unless manifested into a process, an idea is merely naked for “[p]atent system is not concerned with quality of inventor’s mind, but with quality of his product.” 35 USC § 101(quoting Associated Plastics Cos. v. Gits Molding Corp.).

Process is much more important. Patentability of process seems to be an area fertile for litigation, especially regarding alleged patent infringement. However, what is “process” exactly, and which cases illustrate its importance? There are some very interesting cases that involve alleged infringement of patented process, in particular Schering Corp. v. Amgen Inc. discussed the very detailed process of amplifying human-extracted interferons in E.coli. In this case the court interprets the patent and goes through the process associated with such patent. The “product-by-process” claim will be discussed in the next post in further detail.

Until next time,




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