Diamond v Chakrabarty - conflicting notions of the role of courts

Posted by Anton Hughes on Wednesday, January 02, 2008 with No comments
Compare this quote:
It is, of course, correct that Congress, not the courts, must define the limits of patentability; but it is equally true that once Congress has spoken it is “the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison,1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). Congress has performed its constitutional role in defining patentable subject matter in §101; we perform ours in construing the language Congress has employed. In so doing, our obligation is to take statutes as we find them, guided, if ambiguity appears, by the legislative history and statutory purpose. Here, we perceive no ambiguity. The subject matter provisions of the patent law have been cast in broad terms to fulfill the constitutional and statutory goal of promoting “the Progress of Science and the useful Arts” with all that means for the social and economic benefits envisioned by Jefferson. Broad general language is not necessarily ambiguous when congressional objectives require broad terms.

with this one:
It is argued that this Court should weigh these potential hazards in considering whether respondent’s invention is <447 U.S. 317> patentable subject matter under §101. We disagree. The grant or denial of patents on microorganisms is not likely to put an end to genetic research or to its attendant risks. The large amount of research that has already occurred when no researcher had sure knowledge that patent protection would be available suggests that legislative or judicial fiat as to patentability will not deter the scientific mind from probing into the unknown any more than Canute could command the tides. Whether respondent’s claims are patentable may determine whether research efforts are accelerated by the hope of reward or slowed by want of incentives, but that is all. What is more important is that we are without competence to entertain these arguments – either to brush them aside as fantasies generated by fear of the unknown, or to act on them. The choice we are urged to make is a matter of high policy for resolution within the legislative process after the kind of investigation, examination, and study that legislative bodies can provide and courts cannot. That process involves the balancing of competing values and interests, which in our democratic system is the business of elected representatives. Whatever their validity, the contentions now pressed on us should be addressed to the political branches of the government, the Congress and the Executive, and not to the courts.


So it seems that expanding the concept of patentable subject matter is within the judicial fiat, but restricting its scope is not. No wonder it continues to expand then.