Decisions by the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit over the past decade have wrestled with the question that 35 U.S.C. §101 was intended to answer: What is eligible for patent protection? The text of §101 says a patent can be granted for “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Though this text has changed very little since it was first written in 1793, the courts have established a number of judicially created exceptions, and exceptions to those exceptions. This has created a growing difficulty and uncertainty in applying §101 to modern technologies, especially those implemented by computer systems.
Bob Dylan famously sang that “[y]ou don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” and we don’t need a weatherman to tell us that the wind now blows differently at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). On January 7, 2019, the USPTO released revised subject matter eligibility examination guidance (“Guidance”), foreshadowed by USPTO Director Iancu last fall. The Guidance is noteworthy both for raising the bar in examination procedure and, we think, for signaling the Office’s intent to rein-in the application of subject matter ineligibility analysis (“lest it swallow all of patent law” – Alice). We anticipate a reduction in subject matter eligibility rejections because the Guidance makes it more difficult for examiners to reject claims as being directed to unpatentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101.
Over the years, patents have issued on numerous games, including iconic favorites such as Monopoly® (1935), Battleship® (1935), Rubik’s Cube® (1983), Rock'em Sock'em Robots® (1966), Twister® (1969), and Simon® (1979). Although there is no per se rule under current U.S. patent law against the patenting of games, it may be more challenging today to obtain patents on certain games due to the patent eligibility requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 101.
In a stinging decision that will impact its patent portfolio, Arthrex recently suffered a setback in a patent dispute over suture anchors with Smith & Nephew. The Federal Circuit upheld a PTAB judgment entering adverse judgment against claims 1-9 of Arthrex’s U.S. Pat. No. 8,821,541, which S&N challenged in a 2016 IPR. This decision will affect the related patent portfolio because of the estoppel provisions of 37 CFR 42.73.
Defendants in patent litigation frequently mount an invalidity defense under 35 U.S.C. § 101 by arguing that asserted claims are directed to abstract ideas, which are not eligible for patent protection under the first step of the Alice test. Often, these defendants fail to account for significant aspects of the asserted claims, resulting in an oversimplification that doesn’t accurately articulate what the claims are actually directed to. This was precisely the government’s error in Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States (Fed. Cir. 2017), where the Federal Circuit found, contrary to the government’s characterization of the claims (which the Claims Court adopted), the asserted claims were not directed to an abstract idea.
The America Invents Act (AIA) established a number of procedures for challenging a granted patent at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). While virtually anyone can challenge a patent using these procedures, not everyone has standing to appeal if the challenge does not go their way.
This issue was highlighted recently in a precedential decision from the Federal Circuit. In Phigenix Inc. v. ImmunoGen, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Jan. 9, 2017), the Federal Circuit held that a petitioner-appellant from an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding lacked standing to appeal the PTAB’s final written decision in federal court.
The Federal Circuit this month issued another decision finding claims to a computer-implemented invention to be patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In Amdocs (Israel) Ltd. v. Openet Telecom, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Nov. 1, 2016), the Federal Circuit held that claims directed to a distributed architecture for collecting and processing computer network data close to its source met the requirements of the Alice/Mayo framework, and therefore recited patent-eligible subject matter.
As discussed in the latest memorandum, the Federal Circuit in McRO held that the claims at issue are patent eligible under 35 USC § 101 because they are not directed to an abstract idea under the first prong of the two-part Alice test. Under Alice, all claims having an abstract idea are analyzed in two steps:
The Federal Circuit last week handed down the latest in a series of decisions finding computer-implemented inventions to be patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America, Inc. et al. (Fed. Cir. Sept. 13, 2016), the Federal Circuit held that claims directed to software for automatically animating lip synchronization and facial expressions of animated characters were not directed to an abstract idea under the first prong of the Alice test, and therefore recited patent-eligible subject matter. McRO joins a growing list of Federal Circuit cases that find computer-implemented inventions to be non-abstract, including DDR Holdings, Enfish, and BASCOM.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.