Over the past two months, the trends I’ve discussed in my previous blogs on AliceStorm have continued and become more entrenched. In particular, the Federal Circuit has been quite active, issuing nine decisions since late June. These decisions lay out a theory of patent eligibility that in my view is divorced from both scientific reality and how innovation actually occurs. I’ll discuss those points below, but first let’s do the numbers. June, July and August showed an uptick in the number Section 101 decisions from April and May, the majority of these being motions to dismiss and judgments on the pleadings. The rates of invalidity holdings continue to be steady: 70% overall, and 66.3% in the district courts. Success on motions on the pleadings is up to 68.1%.
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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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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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In my June post, The One Year Anniversary: The Aftermath of #AliceStorm, I surveyed the frequency of Section 101 rejections at the USPTO. My analysis was based on approximately 300,000 office action and notices of allowance received from Patent Advisor.

As a reminder, the Section 101 rejection rates from the June post at the level of the USPTO Technology Center (TC) are shown below.  The numbers here are the percentage of all events in the cohort (TC and time period) that had a Section 101 rejection.  An event is either an allowance or a rejection; other events such as restriction requirements, advisory actions, and so forth are not counted.   image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15101901/2dba4170-2965-456c-87a9-acc1b1f56239.png
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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

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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Patent eligibility is not the only area in which the Federal Circuit’s rulings have impacted software patents.  The Court has also altered course in handing means-plus function claims in several recent cases including Eon v. ATT and Williamson v. Citrix. To learn how these rulings will effect software patents, your company’s IP portfolio and your

In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014), dozens of courts have declared scores of patents to be invalid as not satisfying the requirements of §101 of the patent statute. The Federal Circuit recently issued a decision that provides the same result but does not rely on the Alice standard and may have a significant and lasting impact on patents for software-related inventions. Allvoice Devs. US, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 2014-1258, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 8476 (Fed. Cir. May 22, 2015). In Allvoice, the Federal Circuit declared a patent’s claims to be invalid because it simply found them not to be directed to one of the four statutory categories of inventions identified in §101.

The Alice case and its progeny have all relied on certain judicially created exceptions to §101, stating that inventions are not of a patentable type if, for instance, they encompass an abstract idea. Various tests evolved over the past few years, culminating in Alice, to determine whether the claims of a patent fall into one of these judicially created exceptions. In Allvoice, the Federal Circuit took a very different approach.


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