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Many whose comfortable status quo has been disrupted by the advance of business method patents say patents should be limited to industrial and high-tech innovations. For generations, typical commercial enterprises have freely copied competitors’ new product offerings and marketing approaches. Purchased products or computers might be patented, but the supplier dealt with any patent infringement allegations.

But now the center of gravity of innovation in the economy is shifting, as the value of intangible corporate assets has overtaken that of bricks and mortar. The patent system has adapted, based on the 1998 State Street Bank decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, in which business methods were found patentable. Creative business minds, not just scientists and engineers, are taking advantage to protect worthy ideas against copying for the limited life of a patent. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must cope with a deluge of patent applications for inventions in financial and other “non-technical” industries. The banking, securities and insurance industries have seen some companies commit quickly to a strategy of building patent portfolios ahead of their competitors to boost their competitive advantage. E-commerce, marketing and education also are areas of increased patent activity.

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