1. Why do entrepreneurs need to protect their technical and scientific innovations?
If you start a grocery store, you probably are not selling a technical or scientific innovation, so your goal is to execute better than the grocery store down the street. You likely will compete on price, quality, and service. Businesses that develop technical and scientific innovations, such as Tesla, Apple, and Novartis, as well as startups, spend enormous sums of time and capital developing the next big thing. These companies directly capitalize on that innovation. Ideally, nobody other than the entrepreneur who developed that innovation can commercialize it, giving the entrepreneur the exclusive right to own and potentially build the protected market/product. Think of it another way—why spend all this time and effort to move the market forward just to let a competitor use it…and reap the benefits of your hard work!
Indeed, parties looking to acquire an innovative company (or analysts for an IPO) take a hard look at whether the technical and scientific innovation of that company is adequately protected. Unfortunately, poorly protected innovation can kill enterprise value and even kill a deal. Venture capitalists, private equity, angel investors, and others will make similar analyses because they strive for a positive return on their investments through an acquisition or IPO.
Steve Saunders, co-chair of Nutter’s Intellectual Property Department, recently drafted a Nutter Insights on how patents should be drafted with an emphasis on technical problems and technical solutions delivered by the claims.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.