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Art Units in Misc. Computer Applications Have 72% Allowance


Written by Gene Quinn
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Patent Attorney, Reg. No. 44,294
Zies, Widerman & Malek
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Posted: February 6, 2013 @ 3:02 pm
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Over the past year or so ever more patent data has been made publicly available thanks to Google. In collaboration with the USPTO Google is scraping information from the USPTO servers, transferring the many image files into searchable text documents. The availability of this information has allowed companies like Reed Technologies to offer interesting and useful patent analytics. For example, the Patent Advisor™ product, which is powered by PatentCore, allows users to find rejection, allowance, RCE and appeals information relating to individual Art Units and individual examiners. Armed with this information better prosecution strategies can be developed, saving time and money in the long run.

As I have dove into the Patent Advisor statistics I jumped to those Art Units charged with so-called business method patents in class 705. This has lead me to write several articles critical of one Art Unit in particular for having an extremely low allowance rate, with many of those allowances ordered by the Board. For example, see Allowance Rates for Art Units Examining Business Methods.

But what is a business method? That is the very question that dogged the United States Supreme Court in Bilski. In fact, a definition of “business method” has proven to be as illusive as a unicorn or Bigfoot. The goal of those who care to try and define “business methods” is almost universally so that they become non-allowable subject matter. But with every definition there comes the realization that some of what seems like it should be swept up in the definition remains on the outside and some things that really ought not to be considered “offensive” business methods are swept up in the definition. The trouble is that methods have been patentable since 1790 in the United States and on some level virtually every method could be characterized as a method of doing business, or more generally a method that facilitates one or another business goal.

Further compounding the matter is that in order to be patentable the so-called machine-or-transformation (MOT) test must be satisfied. Yes, the Supreme Court said that is not the only way to satisfy patentability, but it has become a safe harbor. If you satisfy MOT you have patentable subject matter, and we are still without a case illustrating a scenario where MOT is not satisfied and there is patentable subject matter. Still further frustrating attempts to pigeon-hole business methods is that neither business methods nor computer implemented innovations are limited to class 705.

This all means that the “business method Art Units” are not the only ones charged with examining applications covering computer-implemented methods. In fact, there are Art Units where from a patentee perspective you would really rather be assigned because they have allowance rates in excess of 70%. In fact, one cluster of Art Units identified as covering “Miscellaneous Computer Applications,” which by class is assigned to data processing, has an allowance rate of 72.2% according to data available via Patent Advisor™. See the table above right, which was compiled on Monday, February 4, 2013. Incidentally, anyone interested in checking out Patent Advisor can sign up for a 2-day free trial.

So it would seem that despite what you may have heard, at least in some corners of the Patent Office, computer implemented methods are patentable. Of course, saying that “some computer implemented innovations” are patentable doesn’t really give a lot of guidance. After all, at the end of the day it all comes down to claims. With this in mind let’s take a look at some recent patents and the associated independent claims coming from these Art Units.

Before jumping straight into the claims, however, allow me to make a suggestion. As you read these claims ask yourself whether you and your clients might benefit from trying to present claims in an application in such a way so as to attempt to otherwise redirect the application to an Art Unit that may be more predisposed to allowing patents. I think many will also probably notice that some of these claims would have extreme difficult to get past certain patent examiners in other business method Art Units.

From Art Unit 2123

Systems and methods for computer aided analysis of images
U.S. Patent No. 8,224,052

This General Electric patent generally relates to imaging, but specifically to layering images taken over time to show continuous development or movement. The Background explains that hospitals and clinics, for example, have a lot of information systems, such as hospital information systems (HIS), radiology information systems (RIS), clinical information systems (CIS), and cardiovascular information systems (CVIS), and storage systems, such as picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), library information systems (LIS), and electronic medical records (EMR). Information stored may include, among other things, imaging data. Often times the practitioner performs a diagnosis based on a content of those images. It may be useful to try and view images taken over a length of time to identify changes.

Unfortunately, alignment of the images can be challenging because images are captured in various orientations and positions and at different scales. Even for an expert, it can be a time consuming process to manually align data. Thus, GE invented a computer implemented method to accomplish this for the healthcare professional, and in order to provide a clearer picture demonstrating what changes have occurred over time.  The independent claims in the patent cover the following:

 1. A method for computer aided analysis of images comprising: isolating a motion area in an image; segmenting the image; utilizing a support vector machine to identify a region of interest in the image; utilizing a graph-cut algorithm to refine the region of interest; verifying the region of interest; aligning the image with another image, wherein the image alignment includes computing functional matrices based on known parameters of the motion area; and outputting an image key to provide a visual display depicting a characteristic of the motion area as a function of time.

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19. A system for computer aided analysis of images including: at least one computer processor configured to isolate a motion area in an image; at least one computer processor configured to segment the image; at least one computer processor configured to utilize a support vector machine to identify a region of interest in the image; at least one computer processor configured to utilize a graph-cut algorithm to refine the region of interest; at least one computer processor configured to verify the region of interest; at least one computer processor configured to align the image with another image, wherein the image alignment includes computing functional matrices based on known parameters of the motion area; and at least one computer processor configured to output an image key to provide a visual display depicting a characteristic of the motion area as a function of time.

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37. A non-transitory computer-readable storage medium including a set of instructions for execution on a processing device and associated processing logic for computer aided analysis of images, the set of instructions comprising: an isolation routine configured to isolate a motion area in an image; a segmentation routine configured to segment the image; a identification routine configured to utilize a support vector machine to identify a region of interest in the image; a refinement routine configured to utilize a graph-cut algorithm to refine the region of interest; a verification routine configured to verify the region of interest; an alignment routine configured to align the image with another image, wherein the image alignment includes computing functional matrices based on known parameters of the motion area; and an output routine configured to output an image key to provide a visual display depicting a characteristic of the motion area as a function of time.

 

From Art Unit 2127

Method and apparatus for actively managing consumption of electric power supplied by an electric utility
U.S. Patent No. 8,315,717

There are multiple independent claims in this patent. Some illustrative ones include the following.  Notice that the “computer” is really implied, which some examiners in some Art Units will simply not allow you to get away with. This raises a question about the uniformity of examination between related Art Units certainly, but directly raises the question about claim drafting techniques. Art Unit 2127, with an allowance rate of nearly 78%, examines applications that relate to either generic control systems or to specific applications. While not every application can be cajoled into the Art Unit you’d rather be in, there are certainly some that could be characterized as generic control systems or specific applications.

In any event, the claims for consideration from this patent include:

1. A method for managing a flow of power supplied by an electric utility, the method comprising: receiving a power control message indicating at least one of an amount of electric power to be reduced and an identification of at least one controllable device to be instructed to disable a flow of electric power to at least one associated power consuming device, the power control message being responsive to a power reduction request issued by the electric utility; and responsive to the power control message, disabling a flow of electric power to at least one power consuming device.

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42. A method for managing a flow of electric power supplied by an electric utility to a residence or a business, the method comprising: determining an amount of electric power consumed by at least one power consuming device; reporting the amount of consumed electric power to a system controller via a network; some time after reporting the amount of consumed electric power, receiving a power control message from the system controller, the power control message being responsive to a power reduction request issued by the electric utility and requiring a reduction in power consumed by the at least one power consuming device; and responsive to the power control message, reducing a flow of electric power to the at least one power consuming device.

From Art Unit 2129

Predictive model importation
U.S. Patent No. 8,209,274

This Google patent relates to importation and use of predictive models.  A predictive model is one that relates to techniques for extracting information from data to build a model that can predict an output from a given input. Predicting an output can include predicting future trends or behavior patterns, or performing sentiment analysis, for example. Various types of predictive models can be used to analyze data and generate predictive outputs.

The patent explains that a predictive model is trained. For example, e-mail messages can be sorted into SPAM or not SPAM based on email message subject lines and other associated information. The system can learn from the choices and better predict moving forward whether any particular message is SPAM or not.

There are several independent claims in this patent, including claim 1, which relates to a computer-implemented method, and claim 10, which relates to a data processing system.

1. A computer-implemented method, the method comprising: obtaining a plurality of representations of predictive models, each representation having been received from a different client wherein each representation is associated with a respective user and comprises a description of a respective predictive model; selecting a model implementation from a plurality of model implementations for each of the obtained representations based on a status of the representation’s respective user, the model implementation comprising one or more computer programs operable to execute on one or more computing devices; and associating each of one or more of the model implementations with a node in a directed graph wherein for one or more ordered pairs of nodes in the graph the prediction output of a model implementation associated with a first node in the pair serves as input to a model implementation associated with a second node in the pair.

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10. A system comprising: data processing apparatus configured to execute instructions which cause the data processing apparatus to perform operations comprising: obtaining a plurality of representations of predictive models, each representation having been received from a different client wherein each representation is associated with a respective user and comprises a description of a respective predictive model; selecting a model implementation from a plurality of model implementations for each of the obtained representations based on a status of the representation’s respective user, the model implementation comprising one or more computer programs operable to execute on one or more computing devices; and associating each of one or more of the model implementations with a node in a directed graph wherein for one or more ordered pairs of nodes in the graph the prediction output of a model implementation associated with a first node in the pair serves as input to a model implementation associated with a second node in the pair.

 

Conclusion

Based on my review of the statistics and a sampling of the patents recently issued by these Art Units (only some of which are mentioned above) it seems that Art Units 2121 to 2129 are doing a good job. So while I have been quick to criticize certain Art Units in the computer-implemented method space, it is totally appropriate to recognize when Art Units and examiners, such as these, are doing quality work and fulfilling their critical role in the innovation to market lifecycle.

A tip of the hat to those in Art Units 2121 through 2129, but specifically to Director Wendy Garber and the Supervisory Patent Examiners (SPEs), namely John Cottingham (2121), Kakali Chaki (2122), Kamini Shah (2123 & 2128), Mohammed Ali (2127) and Jeff Gaffin (2129).

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Posted in: Business Methods, Computers, Gene Quinn, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Patent Prosecution, Patents, USPTO

About the Author

is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.

 

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