By: Robert R. Sachs
There are three 19th century cases that form part of the canon of Supreme Court caselaw on patent eligibility: Le Roy v. Tatham, 55 U.S. 156 (1852), O'Reilly v. Morse, 15 How. 62 (1853) and Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707 (1880).
I'll begin our historical tour with Le Roy v. Tatham, which is cited and quoted in just about every recent Supreme Court and Federal Circuit decision for nothing more than this singular statement: "A principle, in the abstract, is a fundamental truth; an original cause; a motive; and these cannot be patented, as no one can claim in either of them an exclusive right." Given the ubiquity with which Le Roy is cited, one can be forgiven for believing that this case was indeed about whether a 'principle,' etc. was patent-eligible. It is not.