CITE:  447 U.S. 303
CMON:  June 1980
PLAIN: Diamond
DEFND: Chakrabarty
COURT: United States Supreme Court
DATE:  June 16, 1980
596 F.2d 952, affirmed.

A microbiologist filed a patent application relating to his invention of
human-made, genetically engineered bacteria capable of breaking down multiple
components of crude oil, a capability possessed by no naturally occurring
bacteria. A patent examiner rejected the microbiologist's patent claim,
ruling, among other things, that the bacteria, as living things, were not
patentable subject matter under 35 USCS 101, which provides for the
issuance of a patent to a person who invents or discovers "any" new and
useful "manufacture" or "composition of matter".  The United States Patent
and Trademark Office Board of Appeals affirmed, but the United States
Court of Customs and Patent Appeals ultimately reversed, holding that the
fact that micro-organisms are alive is without legal significance for
purposes of the patent law (596 F2d 952).

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed. In an opinion by
Burger, Ch. J., joined by Stewart, Blackmun, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ.,
it was held that a live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject
matter under 35 USCS 101, such a micro-organism constituting a "manufacture"
or "composition of matter" within the meaning of 101.

Brennan, J., joined by White, Marshall, and Powell, JJ., dissenting,
expressed the view that Congress had indicated its belief prior statutes
regulating the patenting of plants that 35 USCS 101 does not encompass
living organisms.

  Live, man-made micro-organism, held patentable under 35 USC 101.
  Manifestations of nature are not patentable. Anything else new
  "under the sun" is patentable.

JUDGE: BURGER, Chief Justice
BURGER, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART,
BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined.  BRENNAN, J., filed a
dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined,
post, p. 318.


We granted certiorari to determine whether a live, human-made micro-organism
is patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101.


In 1972, respondent Chakrabarty, a microbiologist, filed a patent
application, assigned to the General Electric Co.  The application
asserted 36 claims related to Chakrabarty's invention of "a bacterium
from the genus Pseudomonas containing therein at least two stable
energy-generating plasmids, each of said plasmids providing a separate
hydrocarbon degradative pathway."  {n1}  This human-made, genetically
engineered bacterium is capable of breaking down multiple components of
crude oil. Because of this property, which is possessed by no naturally
occurring bacteria, Chakrabarty's invention is believed to have
significant value for the treatment of oil spills. {n2}

Chakrabarty's patent claims were of three types: first, process claims
for the method of producing the bacteria; second, claims for an inoculum
comprised of a carrier material floating on water, such as straw, and
the new bacteria; and third, claims to the bacteria themselves.  The patent
examiner allowed the claims falling into the first two categories, but
rejected claims for the bacteria. His decision rested on two grounds:
(1) that micro-organisms are "products of nature", and (2) that as living
things they are not patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101.

Chakrabarty appealed the rejection of these claims to the Patent Office
Board of Appeals, and the Board affirmed the examiner on the second ground.
{n3}  Relying on the legislative history of the 1930 Plant Patent Act, in
which Congress extended patent protection to certain asexually reproduced
plants, the Board concluded that 101 was not intended to cover living
things such as these laboratory created micro-organisms.

The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, by a divided vote, reversed on the
authority of its prior decision in In re Bergy, 563 F.2d 1031, 1038 (1977),
which held that "the fact that microorganisms . . . are alive . . . [is]
without legal significance" for purposes of the patent law. {n4}
Subsequently, we granted the Acting Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks'
petition for certiorari in Bergy, vacated the judgment, and remanded the
case "for further consideration in light of Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584
(1978)." 438 U.S. 902 (1978). The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals then
vacated its judgment in Chakrabarty and consolidated the case with Bergy
for reconsideration.  After re-examining both cases in the light of our
holding in Flook, that court, with one dissent, reaffirmed its earlier
judgments.  596 F.2d 952 (1979).

The Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks again sought certiorari, and
we granted the writ as to both Bergy and Chakrabarty.  444 U.S. 924 (1979).
Since then, Bergy has been dismissed as moot, 444 U.S. 1028 (1980), leaving
only Chakrabarty for decision.


The Constitution grants Congress broad power to legislate to "promote the
Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to
Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings
and Discoveries."  Art. I, Section 8, clause 8.  The patent laws promote
this progress by offering inventors exclusive rights for a limited period
as an incentive for their inventiveness and research efforts.  Kewanee Oil
Co. v. Bicron Corp., 416 U.S. 470, 480-481 (1974); Universal Oil Co. v.
Globe Co., 322 U.S. 471, 484 (1944).  The authority of Congress is exercised
in the hope that "[the] productive effort thereby fostered will have a
positive effect on society through the introduction of new products and
processes of manufacture into the economy, and the emanations by way of
increased employment and better lives for our citizens." Kewanee, supra,
at 480.

The question before us in this case is a narrow one of statutory
interpretation requiring us to construe  35 U.S.C. 101, which provides:

    "Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine,
    manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful
    improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the
    conditions and requirements of this title."

Specifically, we must determine whether respondent's micro-organism
constitutes a "manufacture" or "composition of matter" within the meaning
of the statute. {n5}


In cases of statutory construction we begin, of course, with the language
of the statute.  Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U.S. 397,
405 (1979). And "unless otherwise defined, words will be interpreted as
taking their ordinary, contemporary, common meaning." Perrin v. United
States, 444 U.S. 37, 42 (1979). We have also cautioned that courts "should
not read into the patent laws limitations and conditions which the
legislature has not expressed." United States v. Dubilier Condenser Corp.,
289 U.S. 178, 199 (1933).

Guided by these canons of construction, this Court has read the term
"manufacture" in 101 in accordance with its dictionary definition to mean
"the production of articles for use from raw or prepared materials by
giving to these materials new forms, qualities, properties, or combinations,
whether by hand-labor or by machinery." American Fruit Growers, Inc. v.
Brogdex Co., 283 U.S. 1, 11 (1931).  Similarly, "composition of matter"
has been construed consistent with its common usage to include "all
compositions of two or more substances and . . . all composite articles,
whether they be the results of chemical union, or of mechanical mixture,
or whether they be gases, fluids, powders or solids." Shell Development
Co. v. Watson, 149 F.Supp. 279, 280 (DC 1957) (citing 1 A. Deller, Walker
on Patents  14, p. 55 (1st ed. 1937)).  In choosing such expansive
terms as "manufacture" and "composition of matter", modified by the
comprehensive "any," Congress plainly contemplated that the patent laws
would be given wide scope.

The relevant legislative history also supports a broad construction.  The
Patent Act of 1793, authored by Thomas Jefferson, defined statutory subject
matter as "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture, or composition of
matter, or any new or useful improvement [thereof]." Act of Feb. 21, 1793,
Section 1, 1 Stat. 319.  The Act embodied Jefferson's philosophy that
"ingenuity should receive a liberal encouragement". 5 Writings of Thomas
Jefferson 75-76 (Washington ed. 1871).  See Graham v. John Deere Co.,
383 U.S. 1, 7-10 (1966). Subsequent patent statutes in 1836, 1870, and
1874 employed this same broad language.  In 1952, when the patent laws
were recodified,  Congress replaced the word "art" with "process", but
otherwise left Jefferson's language intact.  The Committee Reports
accompanying the 1952 Act inform us that Congress intended statutory
subject matter to "include anything under the sun that is made by man."
S. Rep. No. 1979, 82d Cong., 2d Sess., 5 (1952); H. R. Rep. No. 1923,
82d Cong., 2d Sess., 6 (1952). {n6}

This is not to suggest that 101 has no limits or that it embraces every
discovery. The laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas have
been held not patentable. See Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978);
Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 67 (1972); Funk Brothers Seed Co. v.
Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 U.S. 127, 130 (1948); O'Reilly v. Morse, 15 How.
62, 112-121 (1854); Le Roy v. Tatham, 14 How. 156, 175 (1853). Thus, a
new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild
is not patentable subject matter. Likewise, Einstein could not patent
his celebrated law that E=mc<2>; nor could Newton have patented the law
of gravity.  Such discoveries are "manifestations of . . . nature, free
to all men and reserved exclusively to none." Funk, supra, at 130.

Judged in this light, respondent's micro-organism plainly qualifies as
patentable subject matter. His claim is not to a hitherto unknown natural
phenomenon, but to a nonnaturally occurring manufacture or composition of
matter -- a product of human ingenuity "having a distinctive name,
character [and] use." Hartranft v. Wiegmann, 121 U.S. 609, 615 (1887).
The point is underscored dramatically by comparison of the invention here
with that in Funk.  There, the patentee had discovered that there existed
in nature certain species of root-nodule bacteria which did not exert a
mutually inhibitive effect on each other.  He used that discovery to
produce a mixed culture capable of inoculating the seeds of leguminous
plants. Concluding that the patentee had discovered "only some of the
handiwork of nature", the Court ruled the product nonpatentable:

    "Each of the species of root-nodule bacteria contained in the package
    infects the same group of leguminous plants which it always infected.
    No species acquires a different use.  The combination of species
    produces no new bacteria, no change in the six species of bacteria,
    and no enlargement of the range of their utility.  Each species has
    the same effect it always had.  The bacteria perform in their natural
    way.  Their use in combination does not improve in any way their
    natural functioning.  They serve the ends nature originally provided
    and act quite independently of any effort of the patentee."
    333 U.S., at 131.

Here, by contrast, the patentee has produced a new bacterium with markedly
different characteristics from any found in nature and one having the
potential for significant utility.  His discovery is not nature's handiwork,
but his own; accordingly it is patentable subject matter under 101.


Two contrary arguments are advanced, neither of which we find persuasive.


The petitioner's first argument rests on the enactment of the 1930 Plant
Patent Act, which afforded patent protection to certain asexually reproduced
plants, and the 1970 Plant Variety Protection Act, which authorized
protection for certain sexually reproduced plants but excluded bacteria
from its protection. {n7}  In the petitioner's view, the passage of these
Acts evidences congressional understanding that the terms "manufacture" or
"composition of matter" do not include living things; if they did, the
petitioner argues, neither Act would have been necessary.

We reject this argument.  Prior to 1930, two factors were thought to remove
plants from patent protection.  The first was the belief that plants, even
those artificially bred, were products of nature for purposes of the patent
law. This position appears to have derived from the decision of the Patent
Office in Ex parte Latimer, 1889 Dec. Com. Pat. 123, in which a patent
claim for fiber found in the needle of the Pinus australis was rejected.
The Commissioner reasoned that a contrary result would permit "patents [to]
be obtained upon the trees of the forest and the plants of the earth,
which of course would be unreasonable and impossible." Id., at 126. The
Latimer case, it seems, came to "[set] forth the general stand taken in
these matters" that plants were natural products not subject to patent
protection.  Thorne, Relation of Patent Law to Natural Products, 6 J. Pat.
Off. Soc. 23, 24 (1923).  {n8}  The second obstacle to patent protection
for plants was the fact that plants were thought not amenable to the
"written description" requirement of the patent law. See 35 U.S.C. 112.
Because new plants may differ from old only in color or perfume,
differentiation by written description was often impossible.  See Hearings
on H.R. 11372 before the House Committee on Patents, 71st Cong., 2d Sess.,
7 (1930) (memorandum of Patent Commissioner Robertson).

In enacting the Plant Patent Act, Congress addressed both of these
concerns.  It explained at length its belief that the work of the
plant breeder "in aid of nature" was patentable invention. S. Rep. No.
315, 71st Cong., 2d Sess., 6-8 (1930); H. R. Rep. No. 1129, 71st Cong.,
2d Sess., 7-9 (1930).  And it relaxed the written description requirement
in favor of "a description . . . as complete as is reasonably possible."
35 U.S.C. 162. No Committee or Member of Congress, however, expressed the
broader view, now urged by the petitioner, that the terms "manufacture"
or "composition of matter" exclude living things.  The sole support for
that position in the legislative history of the 1930 Act is found in the
conclusory statement of Secretary of Agriculture Hyde, in a letter to
the Chairmen of the House and Senate Committees considering the 1930 Act,
that "the patent laws . . . at the present time are understood to cover
only inventions or discoveries in the field of inanimate nature." See
S. Rep. No. 315, supra, at Appendix A; H. R. Rep. No. 1129, supra, at
Appendix A.  Secretary Hyde's opinion, however, is not entitled to
controlling weight.  His views were solicited on the administration of
the new law and not on the scope of patentable subject matter -- an area
beyond his competence. Moreover, there is language in the House and
Senate Committee Reports suggesting that to the extent Congress considered
the matter it found the Secretary's dichotomy unpersuasive.  The Reports

    "There is a clear and logical distinction between the discovery of
    a new variety of plant and of certain inanimate things, such, for
    example, as a new and useful natural mineral.  The mineral is created
    wholly by nature unassisted by man. . . .  On the other hand, a plant
    discovery resulting from cultivation is unique, isolated, and is not
    repeated by nature, nor can it be reproduced by nature unaided by
    man. . . ." S. Rep. No. 315, supra, at 6; H. R. Rep. No. 1129, supra,
    at 7 (emphasis added).

Congress thus recognized that the relevant distinction was not between
living and inanimate things, but between products of nature, whether
living or not, and human-made inventions. Here, respondent's micro-organism
is the result of human ingenuity and research.  Hence, the passage of
the Plant Patent Act affords the Government no support.

Nor does the passage of the 1970 Plant Variety Protection Act support the
Government's position.  As the Government acknowledges, sexually reproduced
plants were not included under the 1930 Act because new varieties could not
be reproduced true-to-type through seedlings.  Brief for Petitioner 27,
n. 31.  By 1970, however, it was generally recognized that true-to-type
reproduction was possible and that plant patent protection was therefore
appropriate.  The 1970 Act extended that protection.  There is nothing
in its language or history to suggest that it was enacted because 101
did not include living things.

In particular, we find nothing in the exclusion of bacteria from plant
variety protection to support the petitioner's position.  See n. 7, supra.
The legislative history gives no reason for this exclusion.  As the Court
of Customs and Patent Appeals suggested, it may simply reflect congressional
agreement with the result reached by that court in deciding In re Arzberger,
27 C.C.P.A. (Pat.) 1315, 112 F.2d 834 (1940), which held that bacteria
were not plants for the purposes of the 1930 Act.  Or it may reflect the
fact that prior to 1970 the Patent Office had issued patents for bacteria
under 101. {n9}  In any event, absent some clear indication that Congress
"focused on [the] issues . . . directly related to the one presently before
the Court," SEC v. Sloan, 436 U.S. 103, 120-121 (1978), there is no basis
for reading into its actions an intent to modify the plain meaning of the
words found in 101.  See TVA v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 189-193 (1978); United
States v. Price, 361 U.S. 304, 313 (1960).


The petitioner's second argument is that micro-organisms cannot qualify as
patentable subject matter until Congress expressly authorizes such protection.
His position rests on the fact that genetic technology was unforeseen when
Congress enacted 101.  From this it is argued that resolution of the
patentability of inventions such as respondent's should be left to Congress.
The legislative process, the petitioner argues, is best equipped to weigh the
competing economic, social, and scientific considerations involved, and to
determine whether living organisms produced by genetic engineering should
receive patent protection.  In support of this position, the petitioner relies
on our recent holding in Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978), and the
statement that the judiciary "must proceed cautiously when . . . asked to
extend patent rights into areas wholly unforeseen by Congress." Id., at 596.

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 Section 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.

Nothing in Flook is to the contrary.  That case applied our prior precedents
to determine that a "claim for an improved method of calculation, even when
tied to a specific end use, is unpatentable subject matter under Section
101."  437 U.S., at 595, n. 18. The Court carefully scrutinized the claim
at issue to determine whether it was precluded from patent protection
under "the principles underlying the prohibition against patents for
'ideas' or phenomena of nature." Id., at 593. We have done that here.
Flook did not announce a new principle that inventions in areas not
contemplated by Congress when the patent laws were enacted are
unpatentable per se.

To read that concept into Flook would frustrate the purposes of the
patent law. This Court frequently has observed that a statute is not
to be confined to the "particular [applications] . . . contemplated by the
legislators." Barr v. United States, 324 U.S. 83, 90 (1945). Accord,
Browder v. United States, 312 U.S. 335, 339 (1941); Puerto Rico v.
Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253, 257 (1937). This is especially true in the field
of patent law. A rule that unanticipated inventions are without protection
would conflict with the core concept of the patent law that anticipation
undermines patentability. See Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S., at
12-17. Mr. Justice Douglas reminded that the inventions most benefiting
mankind are those that "push back the frontiers of chemistry, physics,
and the like." Great A. & P. Tea Co. v.  Supermarket Corp., 340 U.S. 147,
154 (1950) (concurring opinion).  Congress employed broad general language
in drafting Section 101 precisely because such inventions are often
unforeseeable. {n10}

To buttress his argument, the petitioner, with the support of amicus,
points to grave risks that may be generated by research endeavors such
as respondent's. The briefs present a gruesome parade of horribles.
Scientists, among them Nobel laureates, are quoted suggesting that genetic
research may pose a serious threat to the human race, or, at the very
least, that the dangers are far too substantial to permit such research
to proceed apace at this time.  We are told that genetic research and
related technological developments may spread pollution and disease,
that it may result in a loss of genetic diversity, and that its practice
may tend to depreciate the value of human life.  These arguments are
forcefully, even passionately, presented; they remind us that, at times,
human ingenuity seems unable to control fully the forces it creates --
that, with Hamlet, it is sometimes better "to bear those ills we have than
fly to others that we know not of."

It is argued that this Court should weigh these potential hazards in
considering whether respondent's invention is patentable subject matter
under Section 101.  We disagree.  The grant or denial of patents on
micro-organisms 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. {n11}

We have emphasized in the recent past that "[our] individual appraisal of
the wisdom or unwisdom of a particular [legislative] course . . . is to
be put aside in the process of interpreting a statute." TVA v. Hill, 437
U.S., at 194. Our task, rather, is the narrow one of determining what
Congress meant by the words it used in the statute; once that is done
our powers are exhausted.  Congress is free to amend Section 101 so as
to exclude from patent protection organisms produced by genetic engineering.
Cf.  42 U.S.C. 2181 (a), exempting from patent protection inventions
"useful solely in the utilization of special nuclear material or atomic
energy in an atomic weapon".  Or it may choose to craft a statute
specifically designed for such living things.  But, until Congress takes
such action, this Court must construe the language of Section 101 as it
is.  The language of that section fairly embraces respondent's invention.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals is



MR. JUSTICE POWELL join, dissenting.

I agree with the Court that the question before us is a narrow one.
Neither the future of scientific research, nor even the ability of
respondent Chakrabarty to reap some monopoly profits from his pioneering
work, is at stake. Patents on the processes by which he has produced and
employed the new living organism are not contested.  The only question
we need decide is whether Congress, exercising its authority under Art. I,
Section 8, of the Constitution, intended that he be able to secure a
monopoly on the living organism itself, no matter how produced or how
used.  Because I believe the Court has misread the applicable legislation,
I dissent.

The patent laws attempt to reconcile this Nation's deep-seated antipathy
to monopolies with the need to encourage progress.  Deepsouth Packing Co.
v. Laitram Corp., 406 U.S. 518, 530-531 (1972); Graham v. John Deere Co.,
383 U.S. 1, 7-10 (1966). Given the complexity and legislative nature of this
delicate task, we must be careful to extend patent protection no further than
Congress has provided.  In particular, were there an absence of legislative
direction, the courts should leave to Congress the decisions whether and how
far to extend the patent privilege into areas where the common understanding
has been that patents are not available. {nn1}  Cf. Deepsouth Packing Co. v.
Laitram Corp., supra.

In this case, however, we do not confront a complete legislative vacuum.
The sweeping language of the Patent Act of 1793, as re-enacted in 1952,
is not the last pronouncement Congress has made in this area.  In 1930
Congress enacted the Plant Patent Act affording patent protection to
developers of certain asexually reproduced plants. In 1970 Congress enacted
the Plant Variety Protection Act to extend protection to certain new plant
varieties capable of sexual reproduction. Thus, we are not dealing -- as
the Court would have it -- with the routine problem of "unanticipated
inventions."  Ante, at 316.  In these two Acts Congress has addressed the
general problem of patenting animate inventions and has chosen carefully
limited language granting protection to some kinds of discoveries, but
specifically excluding others.  These Acts strongly evidence a
congressional limitation that excludes bacteria from patentability. {nn2}

First, the Acts evidence Congress' understanding, at least since 1930,
that Section 101 does not include living organisms. If newly developed
living organisms not naturally occurring had been patentable under Section
101, the plants included in the scope of the 1930 and 1970 Acts could
have been patented without new legislation.  Those plants, like the
bacteria involved in this case, were new varieties not naturally occurring.
{nn3}  Although the Court, ante, at 311, rejects this line of argument,
it does not explain why the Acts were necessary unless to correct a
pre-existing situation. {nn4}  I cannot share the Court's implicit
assumption that Congress was engaged in either idle exercises or mere
correction of the public record when it enacted the 1930 and 1970 Acts.
And Congress certainly thought it was doing something significant.  The
Committee Reports contain expansive prose about the previously unavailable
benefits to be derived from extending patent protection to plants. {nn5}
H.R. Rep. No. 91-1605, pp. 1-3 (1970); S. Rep. No. 315, 71st Cong., 2d Sess.,
1-3 (1930).  Because Congress thought it had to legislate in order to make
agricultural "human-made inventions" patentable and because the legislation
Congress enacted is limited, it follows that Congress never meant to make
items outside the scope of the legislation patentable.

Second, the 1970 Act clearly indicates that Congress has included bacteria
within the focus of its legislative concern, but not within the scope of
patent protection.  Congress specifically excluded bacteria from the
coverage of the 1970 Act.  7 U.S.C. 2402 (a).  The Court's attempts to
supply explanations for this explicit exclusion ring hollow.  It is true
that there is no mention in the legislative history of the exclusion,
but that does not give us license to invent reasons.  The fact is that
Congress, assuming that animate objects as to which it had not specifically
legislated could not be patented, excluded bacteria from the set of
patentable organisms.

The Court protests that its holding today is dictated by the broad
language of Section 101, which cannot "be confined to the 'particular
[applications] . . . contemplated by the legislators.'" Ante, at 315,
quoting Barr v. United States, 324 U.S. 83, 90 (1945). But as I have
shown, the Court's decision does not follow the unavoidable implications
of the statute.  Rather, it extends the patent system to cover living
material even though Congress plainly has legislated in the belief that
Section 101 does not encompass living organisms. It is the role of
Congress, not this Court, to broaden or narrow the reach of the patent
laws.  This is especially true where, as here, the composition sought
to be patented uniquely implicates matters of public concern.


{n1}  Plasmids are hereditary units physically separate from the
chromosomes of the cell.  In prior research, Chakrabarty and an associate
discovered that plasmids control the oil degradation abilities of certain
bacteria. In particular, the two researchers discovered plasmids capable
of degrading camphor and octane, two components of crude oil. In the work
represented by the patent application at issue here, Chakrabarty discovered
a process by which four different plasmids, capable of degrading four
different oil components, could be transferred to and maintained stably
in a single Pseudomonas bacterum, which itself has no capacity for
degrading oil.

{n2}  At present, biological control of oil spills requires the use of
a mixture of naturally occurring bacteria, each capable of degrading one
component of the oil complex.  In this way, oil is decomposed into simpler
substances which can serve as food for aquatic life.  However, for various
reasons, only a portion of any such mixed culture survives to attack the
oil spill.  By breaking down multiple components of oil, Chakrabarty's
micro-organism promises more efficient and rapid oil-spill control.

{n3}  The Board concluded that the new bacteria were not "products of
nature", because Pseudomonas bacteria containing two or more different
energy-generating plasmids are not naturally occurring.

{n4}  Bergy involved a patent application for a pure culture of the
micro-organism Streptomyces vellosus found to be useful in the
production of lincomycin, an antibiotic.

{n5}  This case does not involve the other "conditions and requirements"
of the patent laws, such as novelty and nonobviousness.  35 U.S.C. 102,

{n6}  This same language was employed by P. J. Federico, a principal
draftsman of the 1952 recodification, in his testimony regarding that
legislation: "[Under] section 101 a person may have invented a machine
or a manufacture, which may include anything under the sun that is made
by man. . . ."  Hearings on H. R. 3760 before Subcommittee No. 3 of the
House Committee on the Judiciary, 82d Cong., 1st Sess., 37 (1951).

{n7}  The Plant Patent Act of 1930, 35 U.S.C. 161, provides in relevant

    "Whoever invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct
    and new variety of plant, including cultivated sports, mutants,
    hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propogated
    plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state, may obtain a patent
    therefor. . . ."

The Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, provides in relevant part:

    "The breeder of any novel variety of sexually reproduced plant (other
    than fungi, bacteria, or first generation hybrids) who has so
    reproduced the variety, or his successor in interest, shall be
    entitled to plant variety protection therefor. . . ." 84 Stat.
    1547, 7 U.S.C. 2402 (a).

See generally, 3 A. Deller, Walker on Patents, ch. IX (2d ed. 1964); R.
Allyn, The First Plant Patents (1934).

{n8}  Writing three years after the passage of the 1930 Act, R. Cook,
Editor of the Journal of Heredity, commented: "It is a little hard for
plant men to understand why [Art. I, Section 8] of the Constitution
should not have been earlier construed to include the promotion of the
art of plant breeding.  The reason for this is probably to be found in
the principle that natural products are not patentable." Florists Exchange
and Horticultural Tade World, July 15, 1933, p. 9.

{n9}  In 1873, the Patent Office granted Louis Pasteur a patent on
"yeast, free from organic germs of disease, as an article of manufacture".
And in 1967 and 1968, immediately prior to the passage of the Plant Variety
Protection Act, that Office granted two patents which, as the petitioner
concedes, state claims for living micro-organisms. See Reply Brief for
Petitioner 3, and note 2.

{n10}  Even an abbreviated list of patented inventions underscores the
point: telegraph (Morse, No. 1,647); telephone (Bell, No. 174,465);
electric lamp (Edison, No. 223,898); airplane (the Wrights, No. 821,393);
transistor (Bardeen & Brattain, No. 2,524,035); neutronic reactor
(Fermi & Szilard, No. 2,708,656); laser (Schawlow & Townes, No. 2,929,922).
See generally Revolutionary Ideas, Patents & Progress in America,
United States Patent and Trademark Office (1976).

{n11}  We are not to be understood as suggesting that the political branches
have been laggard in the consideration of the problems related to genetic
research and technology.  They have already taken action.  In 1976, for
example, the National Institutes of Health released guidelines for
NIH-sponsored genetic research which established conditions under which
such research could be performed.  41 Fed. Reg. 27902. In 1978 those
guidelines were revised and relaxed.  43 Fed. Reg. 60080, 60108, 60134.
And Committees of the Congress have held extensive hearings on these
matters.  See, e. g., Hearings on Genetic Engineering before the
Subcommittee on Health of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public
Welfare, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975); Hearings before the Subcommittee
on Science, Technology, and Space of the Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science, and Transportation, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. (1977); Hearings on
H.R. 4759 et al. before the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment
of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 95th Cong.,
1st Session (1977).

{nn1}  I read the Court to admit that the popular conception, even
among advocates of agricultural patents, was that living organisms
were unpatentable. See ante, at 311-312, and n. 8.

{nn2}  But even if I agreed with the Court that the 1930 and 1970 Acts
were not dispositive, I would dissent.  This case presents even more
cogent reasons than Deepsouth Packing Co. not to extend the patent
monopoly in the face of uncertainty.  At the very least, these Acts are
signs of legislative attention to the problems of patenting living
organisms, but they give no affirmative indication of congressional
intent that bacteria be patentable. The caveat of Parker v. Flook,
437 U.S. 584, 596 (1978), an admonition to "proceed cautiously when we
are asked to extend patent rights into areas wholly unforeseen by
Congress", therefore becomes pertinent.  I should think the necessity for
caution is that much greater when we are asked to extend patent rights
into areas Congress has foreseen and considered but has not resolved.

{nn3}  The Court refers to the logic employed by Congress in choosing not
to perpetuate the "dichotomy" suggested by Secretary Hyde.  Ante, at 313.
But by this logic the bacteria at issue here are distinguishable from a
"mineral . . . created wholly by nature" in exactly the same way as were
the new varieties of plants. If a new Act was needed to provide patent
protection for the plants, it was equally necessary for bacteria. Yet
Congress provided for patents on plants but not on these bacteria. In
short, Congress decided to make only a subset of animate "human-made
inventions", ibid., patentable.

{nn4}  If the 1930 Act's only purpose were to solve the technical problem
of description referred to by the Court, ante, at 312, most of the Act,
and in particular its limitation to asexually reproduced plants, would
have been totally unnecessary.

{nn5}  Secretary Hyde's letter was not the only explicit indication in the
legislative history of these Acts that Congress was acting on the assumption
that legislation was necessary to make living organisms patentable. The
Senate Judiciary Committee Report on the 1970 Act states the Committee's
understanding that patent protection extended no further than the explicit
provisions of these Acts:

    "Under the patent law, patent protection is limited to those varieties
    of plants which reproduce asexually, that is, by such methods as
    grafting or budding.  No protection is available to those varieties
    of plants which reproduce sexually, that is, generally by seeds."
    S. Rep. No. 91-1246, p. 3 (1970).

Similarly, Representative Poage, speaking for the 1970 Act, after noting the
protection accorded asexually developed plants, stated that "for plants
produced from seed, there has been no such protection." 116 Cong. Rec.
40295 (1970).