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:
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