Much ink has been spilled in recent times on the standards for, and outcomes of, patent eligibility questions under § 101.  Consider, for example, USPTO Director Andrei Iancu’s remarks in September about providing additional guidance to Patent Office examiners, and various analyses of invalidation rates in the federal courts. (We touched on invalidation rates ourselves in our Bilski Blog update in August, at which time the Federal Circuit’s cumulative invalidation rate since July 2014 was hovering north of 88 percent.)

One topic has received little attention, however: The rulings of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board on pre-grant § 101 examiner rejections appealed by applicants.  In my opinion, this constitutes the proverbial elephant in the room for patent prosecutors.


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It's been one year since the Supreme Court's decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank. On its face the opinion was relatively conservative, cautioning courts to "tread carefully" before invalidating patents, and emphasizing that the primary concern was to avoid preemption of "fundamental building blocks" of human ingenuity.  The Court specifically avoided any suggestion that software or business methods were presumptively invalid.  But those concerns seem to have gone unheeded.  The Court's attempt to sidestep the tricky problem of defining the boundary of an exception to patent eligibility—"we need not labor to delimit the precise contours of the "abstract ideas category in this case""—has turned into the very mechanism that is quickly "swallow[ing] all of patent law.” The federal courts, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and the USPTO are using the very lack of a definition to liberally expand the contours of abstract ideas to cover everything from computer animation to database architecture to digital photograph management and even to safety systems for automobiles.

Let's look at the numbers to present an accurate picture of the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision. My analysis is a data-driven attempt to assess the implications of Alice one year out. It is with an understanding of how the Supreme Court’s decision is actually playing out in the theater of innovation that we can better project and position ourselves for what the future holds.

Alice at Court

Table 0 Fed Courts

As of June 19, 2015 there have been 106 Federal Circuit and district court decisions on § 101 grounds, with 76 decisions invalidating the patents at issue in whole or in part.  In terms of patents and claims, 65% of challenged patents have been found invalid, along with 76.2% of the challenged claims. 


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It's been six weeks since my last AliceStorm update, and we've had plenty of action: twelve §101 decisions, and fourteen patents invalidated in just that period. That said, the success rate of motions on the pleadings is dropping, now down to a mere 69.6%. At PTAB, ten new institution decisions, all of which were granted on ineligibility grounds. And PTAB continues with its 100% kill rate, with seven (!) final decisions invalidating patents.

Here's the data.

Total

Total Invalid

% Invalid

+/-

Fed. Cir and 
Dist. Ct. Decisions

90

63

70.0%

-3.9%

Patents

215

131

60.9%

-10.4%

Claims

4,497

3,282

73.0%

-7.3%

Motions on Pleading

46

32

69.6%

-7.6%

PTAB CBM Institution Decisions on 101

51

44

88.5%

1.52%

PTAB CBM Final
Decisions on 101

27

27

100%

 0%


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Fenwick & West has launched an interactive PTAB Database that details proceedings filed with the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board – providing quick and easy access to information about PTAB decisions.

With the creation of PTAB by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, core aspects of resolving validity disputes are now governed by newly