The Senate on Thursday passed the patent reform bill, H.R. 1249 (passed by the House in June) that makes significant changes to US patent law, including a ban on new tax strategy patents. (There is an exception for tax filing and preparation software and financial management software. The protection for financial management software--dear to all the too-big-to-fail banks--was added by the House in June. Many who have been following the controversy over business method patents consider those exceptions problematic since such items shouldn't be protected by patent but by copyright.) The bill now goes to the President for his signature.
Senators Baucus and Grassley justified their position in support of the ban as protecting the right of taxpayers to have equal access to tax planning strategies. The bill's ban on tax strategy patents in section 14 relies on the requirement that patents be non-obvious, indicating that tax strategy patents are deemed to be within prior art. Too bad the legislation didn't just say outright that legal strategies are not patent-eligible material because they are not appropriate subject matter for patents under section 101.
I'm not sure the many other patent reforms make sense--in particular, it seems that they make life better for the giant corporations like Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, but likely remove protections from the real inventors, the not-so-well-funded innovative kid working out of his garage. See, e.g., Patent Reform Ok'd: Critics Say It Impedes Startups, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 8, 2011. The bill generally furthers the corporatist agenda as a "sellout to big business," with a "first to file" rule replacing the "first to invent" rule and provision for third parties to initiate patent litigation (rewarding big businesses with big litigation warchests).