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In October 2009, Verizon launched a series of commercial advertisements comparing coverage maps of Verizon’s 3G network with more sparse 3G coverage maps of competitor AT&T. Specifically, Verizon’s ads claim that AT&T is “out of touch” and that if someone wanted to know why an AT&T customer has spotty 3G coverage “there’s a map for that.”
Based on these advertisements, AT&T has sued Verizon for violations of trademark law under the Lanham Act and local laws, claiming false advertising and deceptive trade practices. They are seeking a temporary restraining order and injunctions to prevent Verizon from continuing to use the ads, as well as for damages. (see AT&T Mobility LLC v. Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless, United District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, Case No. 1:09-cv-3057)
Notably, AT&T is the carrier for Apple’s iPhone which has the popular catch phrase “there’s an app for that.”
On Monday November 9, 2009 the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Bilski v. Kappos (formerly Bilski v. Doll). The case involves the patent eligibility of business method claims in general, and specifically concerns claims directed to a method for hedging risk in commodities trading. After being denied a patent by the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”), the applicants appealed to the Federal Circuit claiming the USPTO erroneously rejected the claims as not directed to patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101. In affirming the decision, the Federal Circuit crafted a new “machine or transformation” test for patent eligibility of method claims, in which the method must be tied to a machine or transform a particular article into a different state or thing. The applicants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the “machine or transformation” test is impermissibly rigid in the face of broad statutory language allowing patents for”any” new and useful process beyond excluding patents for “laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.”
Since its inception, the “machine or transformation” test has been a source of great interest as it effectively forecloses patent eligibility and meaningful protection for many business methods. Many have also been concerned that it could have an affect on the patent eligibility of software methods or computer related technologies, as well as medical diagnostics and other biotechnology methods.