My previous blog on McRo focused on the direct aspects of the decision, but there are other excellent points that the court makes and that can be derived from the opinion, and that should play an important role in how the courts and the USPTO handle the Mayo test. First, the mathematical nature of the invention was not fatal; it was vital. One of the favorite buzz-saw arguments for finding ineligibility is that claims for computer-implemented inventions recite—either directly or indirectly—mathematical operations. This is about as insightful as stating that patent claims in U.S. patents are written in the English language. The invocation of the dreaded mathematical algorithm Jabberwocky and talismans of Benson and Flook often convince jurists that the claims are abstract.  The McRo court did not run scared here. Quite the contrary, the McRo court relied on the underlying mathematical nature of the rules to demonstrate non-preemption: “Defendants concede an animator’s process was driven by subjective determinations rather than specific, limited mathematical rules. . . . It is the incorporation of the claimed [mathematical] rules, not the use of the computer, that “improved [the] existing technological process” by allowing the automation of further tasks.” This holding should be heeded by the courts and the USPTO to not treat all mathematically implemented inventions as necessarily abstract.
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Two years ago this Sunday, the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. Pty Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int'l1 addressed a relatively narrow issue: does a claim reciting a generic computer implementation transform an abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention?  The Court considered this a "minor case" in which it did not break new ground, but instead simply followed its decisions in Bilski2 and Mayo.3 The Court reiterated a two-step test set forth in Mayo determine whether the claim recites a judicial exception and if so, determine whether the claim recites an "inventive concept," something "significantly more" than the exception and "enough" to transform the claim into eligible subject matter.4  The Court applied this test to find that Alice’s claim simply recited a fundamental economic practice of risk intermediation through third party settlement, and then held that the presence of generic computing elements or steps was not sufficient to provide an inventive concept.5  To the Court, this was an easy case.

Three aspects of the decision are worth noting. First, the Court did not see the case as presenting a difficult question of defining what is an abstract idea. "In any event, we need not labor to delimit the precise contours of the "abstract ideas" category in this case….Both [Alice and Bilski’s claims] are squarely within the realm of "abstract ideas" as we have used that term.6  In other words, whatever an abstract idea was before Alice, it was the same afterward: there was no expansion of the scope of the term. 


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On May 4, the USPTO issued a new memorandum for patent examiners, “Formulating a Subject Matter Eligibility Rejection and Evaluating the Applicant's Response to a Subject Matter Eligibility Rejection” (“Examiner Instructions”)  along with a new set of five example claims, this time in the life sciences and chemistry arts.   The Examiner Instructions are a positive step forward in refining the examination process, but leave open many questions.  

The Examiner Instructions are primarily procedural in nature—how the examiners are to draft § 101 rejections and respond to arguments—rather than addressing substantive issues such as the scope of abstract ideas, laws of nature or natural products  This comes, I believe, in response to many of the public comments to the Interim Guidance and the July Update that focused on having examiners provide more complete and thorough rejections.  There is a widespread perception, backed up by real evidence, that a large percentage of examiners issue boilerplate § 101 rejections that simply identify some alleged abstract idea, and then formulaically assert that there is no inventive concept because all of the claims limitations recite well-known, routine and conventional steps or the functions of a generic computer.  


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Go to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

(This series of posts is based on an upcoming paper for the AIPLA Spring 2016 meeting.)

Part V. THE FICTIONAL MENTAL STEPS DOCTRINE DOES NOT APPLY TO PROGRAMMED GENERAL PURPOSE COMPUTERS

The fictional form of the mental steps doctrine is inapplicable to digital computers and computer-implemented inventions for several reasons.

First, prior to the widespread usage of the general purpose computer, many inventions were created, and many patents granted, for mechanical and electrical machines that performed mathematical calculations. For example, between 1900 and 1960, there were over 2,300 patents issued that related to mechanical computing devices. That such devices were patent-eligible subject matter seemed beyond dispute, and there are no federal cases in which claims to such devices or their methods of operation were held to be unpatentable subject matter. Calculating machines also perform simple arithmetic that a human could easily do by “head and hand”, but that does not disqualify them as patentable subject matter. This is because the mathematical operations had been mechanized into physical elements: the “locus of the operation” was in the mechanical or electrical elements of the machine.


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Go to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

(This series of posts is based on an upcoming paper for the AIPLA Spring 2016 meeting.)

Part IV. THE CONTINUED APPLICATION OF MENTAL STEPS TO SOFTWARE INVENTIONS

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s misstatement of the relationship between computers and minds continues to this day to be cited as authority and a statement of fact about how computers operate. The Court’s conversion of the mental steps doctrine from its factual form to its fictional form in essence turned the performance of mental steps from being a necessary condition for ineligibility to a sufficient condition. And since the Alice decision refused to offer a definition or even a methodology for identifying abstract ideas, the fictional form of mental steps has been taken up as a model tool. As a result, it has substantively impacted both the case law and the outcome of many patent cases.


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Alice has been busy the last two months, continuing to haunt the federal courts and the Knox and Randolph buildings at the USPTO. Here are the latest #AliceStorm numbers through the end of October 2015: Table 1 Alice Summary There have been 34 district court decisions in the past two months, but the percentage of invalidity decision is holding constant at 70.5%.   The number of patent claims invalidated is now over 11,000, but also holding steady at around 71%. There have been no new Federal Circuit Section 101 decisions, but we’re going to see a flurry of activity in the next couple of months, as the court has recently heard oral argument in a number of patent eligibility cases, and more are on calendar for November. Motions on the pleadings have soared, with 23 in the past two months alone, and the success rate is up a tick from 70.1% to 71.4%.
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On September 4, a Massachusetts district court issued an interesting ruling that calls into question many of the recent preliminary stage Alice-based invalidations we’ve seen over the past year.  The decision, the latest round in ongoing litigation between DataTern and numerous defendants, is notable for the following reasons:

  • It expressly recognizes that the

In my July post, I noted that Section 101 court decisions were issuing fast and furious, with twelve decisions in just the first ten days.  I predicted that “At this pace, we could see some twenty to thirty decisions this month.” Sadly, I was spot on: there were 21 decisions, with 17 of those (81%) invalidating 36 patents.  With those cases, and the cases through August 26, these are the current #AliceStorm numbers:

DOCS-#3742010-v2-101_Cases_and_Decisions

Compared to the last numbers from July, the invalidity decision rate is up a tick, patent invalidity percentage is essentially unchanged, and claims are down a bit.  No surprise, PTAB continues its 100% kill rate on final CBM decisions.
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Part II:  See Part I #AliceStorm: July is Hot, Hot, Hot…and Versata is Not, Not, Not

What Is a “technological invention”?

The other part of the CBM definition at issue in Versata is the exclusion of a technological invention from the scope of CBM review. Correctly, the Court noted that the USPTO’s circular definition of technological invention as “essentially one having a “technological” feature that solves a “technical” problem using a “technical” solution,” “does not offer much help.”  But instead of defining what was technological, the Court looked to what PTAB said was not technological, that is “certain characteristics which, if present, did not help support a finding” that an invention was technological.  Here are PTAB’s exclusionary factors:

1) mere “recitation of known technologies”; 2) “reciting the use of known prior art technology”; and 3) “combining prior art structures to achieve the normal, expected, or predictable result of that combination.”

As a general rule you do not define a word by what it is not: the definition of mammal is not creatures that do not have scales, cold blood, and lay eggs.  Similarly, the use of exclusions does not effectively differentiate between technological inventions and non-technological inventions.
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NOTE (July 14, 2015): When I wrote this piece on Sunday, there were only 7 decisions announced through July 10. When I came to work on Monday, there were three more, so I revised and published yesterday with the count at ten.  Now today, two more decision from July 10!

All of the tables have been updated accordingly.

Perhaps I should just wait until tomorrow?

Part I: #AliceStorm and Versata

July invokes images of hot days, cool nights, and fireworks.  When it comes to #Alicestorm, the fireworks are happening in the courts, with the Federal Circuit lighting up the sky.

Table1

In just the first ten days of July, there have been ten twelve decisions on patent eligibility—more decisions in first ten days of any month since Alice was decided last year the dawn of time.  At this pace, we could see some twenty to thirty decisions this month.   #AliceStorm is accelerating. 


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