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Article I, § 8, of the U.S. Constitution limits the subject matter eligible for patent protection to the useful arts.

According to the Supreme Court, this constitutional limitation on patentability 'was written against the backdrop of the [English] practices — eventually curtailed by the Statute of Monopolies — of the Crown in granting monopolies to court favorites in goods or businesses which had long before been enjoyed by the public.' Graham, 383 U.S. at 5, 86 S.Ct. 684. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the English Crown granted monopolies over entire types of business to specific individuals, for example the grant by James I to Darcy in 1600 of the exclusive right to manufacture or sell playing cards or the exclusive right to the printing business held by the London guild of booksellers and printers. See Peter Meinhardt, Inventions, Patents, and Monopoly 31 (2d ed.1950); Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 200 n.5, 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003). The purpose of such monopolies “was to enrich the King . . . as well as the grantee, at the expense of the community.” Meinhardt, supra, at 31. With this background in mind, the framers consciously acted to bar Congress from granting letters patent in particular types of business. The Constitution explicitly limited patentability to “the national purpose of advancing the useful arts — the process today called technological innovation.” Paulik v. Rizkalla, 760 F.2d 1270, 1276 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (en banc).[1]


  1. In re Comiskey, 499 F.3d 1365, 1374-75 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (full-text).