Chief Justice Warren Burger (L) authored Diamond v. Chakrabarty, while then Justice William Rehnquist (R) authored Diamond v. Diehr.
For those in the patent law world who may have been hiding under a rock, we have been flooded recently with lower court rulings on patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 after Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International. Like a tsunami, these lower court rulings are uniformly sweeping away any patent in its wake as being directed to merely an “abstract idea” that doesn’t provide “something more.” Those quoted words are taken from Our Judicial Mount Olympus’ two-part test in Alice which is derived largely in part from the so-called “framework” of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. for separating patent-ineligible “claims to laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas from those that claim patent-eligible applications of those concepts.” See Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International*
Briefly, the two-part Alice test says: (1) “determine whether the claims at issue are directed to one of those patent-ineligible concepts”; and (2) “search for the ‘inventive concept’ —i.e., “an element or combination of elements that is “sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the [ineligible concept] itself.” In every court case I’ve read so far, all of those lower court rulings have dogmatically (and restrictively) applied this two-part Alice test to rule the patent claims on systems and/or methods (all involving so-called “business methods”) to be patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In fact, I’ve only seen one reported PTAB decision (U.S. Bancorp. v. Solutran, Inc.) where patent claims on systems and/or methods involving these so-called “business methods” passed muster under this two-part Alice test.
I feel like a very broken record. In an IPWatchdog article I wrote back in 2012, I commented on the currently fractured patent-eligibility landscape in the split Federal Circuit panel decision in CLS Bank International v. Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. where a claimed trading platform for exchanging business obligations survived a validity challenge under 35 U.S.C. § 101. See The Fractured Landscape of Patent Eligibility for Business Methods and Systems in CLS Bank International. That fracture got even worse in the subsequent en banc ruling which can only be described as lengthy, tumultuous, and confusing, with a brief per curiam opinion, as well as six full opinions.
With the Supreme Court’s most recent foray into the patent-eligibility world in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, we now have a complete and utter disaster as to what data processing claims can (or more unfortunately cannot) survive scrutiny by Our Judicial Mount Olympus under 35 U.S.C. § 101. I once had respect for Justice Thomas’ view on patent law jurisprudence, having considered his substandard opinion in Myriad on the patent-eligibility of certain “isolated” DNA claims to be an “isolated” aberration. But having now read his mind-boggling Opinion for the Court in Alice Corp., I’ve now thrown my previously “cheery” view of Thomas’ understanding of patent law jurisprudence completely into the toilet. I have even less kind words to say about the three Justices that signed onto Justice Sotomayor’s disingenuous concurring opinion that accepts retired Justice Steven’s equally disingenuous suggestion in Bilski that 35 U.S.C. § 273 (in which Congress acknowledged implicitly, if not explicitly the patent-eligibility of “business methods” under 35 U.S.C. § 101) is a mere “red herring.” See Section 273 is NOT a Red Herring: Steven’s Disingenuous Concurrence in Bilski.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. operates from the view that “ignorance is bliss” when it come to the patent statutes, as well science and technology. I don’t share that view and never will. So in the format that I began with in shredding Justice Alito’s “comedic” opinion in Limelight Networks, here are my “ignorance is not bliss” candidates for Alice Corp., in all their ugliness.
Back in 2012, I discussed in a two-part article (here and here) the conundrum created by the Federal Circuit’s joint infringement doctrine, as particularly reflected in its extremely discordant and fragmented en banc decision of almost 100 total pages in the combined cases of Akamai Technologies, Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc. and McKesson Technologies, Inc. v. Epic Systems Corp. In an opinion over 30 pages long, a bare six judge per curiam majority found it unnecessary to resolve the joint infringement issue. Instead, the per curiam majority ruled that the Akamai Technologies and McKesson Technologies cases should be resolved by applying the doctrine of inducing (indirect) infringement under Section 271(b). The majority also ruled that such indirect infringement could occur as long as all steps of the claimed method are performed, but didn’t requiring that all steps be performed by a single actor.
In a decision barely reaching 11 pages, a unanimous Supreme Court in Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies reversed and remanded the Federal Circuit’s per curiam majority ruling in Akamai Technologies and McKesson Technologies. That the Supreme Court overturned the Federal Circuit’s per curiam majority ruling is not a surprise. But what is truly shocking are the factually inaccurate statements, as well as the problematical reasoning that appears in Justice Alito’s opinion for this unanimous Supreme Court. With all due respect, Alito’s opinion is an abysmal “comedy of errors.” (In terms of one factually inaccurate statement, Alito’s opinion has been characterized as “embarrassing” and rightly.)
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. Earlier this month Eric Guttag wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. What is below is part 2 of his article on George Washington Carver. To read part 1 visit God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver circa 1910.
Carver received a fair degree of recognition at Iowa State College as the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science. He also enjoyed a fairly comfortable income considering his very humble upbringing. By being the only African-American with advanced training in agricultural science, many other universities also wanted Carver as a professor in that science.
Then one day in 1896 came a letter from Booker T. Washington, President of the fledgling Tuskegee Institute (its full name then was “Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute”). Booker T. Washington was a well-known and influential African-American educator, later to visit the White House at the invitation of then President Theodore Roosevelt. Like Carver, Booker T. Washington had been born into slavery and felt that African-Americans must be educated if they were to achieve economic, as well as racial equality in American society.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. This article is about George Washington Carver. Earlier this month Eric Guttag also wrote The Black Edison: Granville T. Woods. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
George Washington Carver in 1942.
Again, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, here is my second article on African-American inventors: George Washington Carver. Carver was not only a talented innovator, but was also an extremely gifted educator and scientist.
So as I usually do, let’s start off with a couple of questions. Before today, how many of you knew George Washington Carver was a scientist and educator? Now how many of you knew Carver was also a talented painter, as well as a talented musician? How many of you knew that Carver was a man of devout Christian faith? Well, before this article ends, you may learn quite a few things about Carver you never knew before.
I’ve divided this tribute to Carver into essentially six sections, which will be covered in a two-part series. I begin by giving you an overview of the early years of Carver’s life, including his family background, early education, as well as his developing Christian faith. Then we will move onto Carver’s activities as a young adult. In part 2 of this series we will then review the most well-known part of Carver’s career, as an educator and scientist at Tuskegee Institute, including the tremendous impact he had in educating young black students, and the local farm community near Tuskegee, as well as exploring and revealing the wonders of agricultural science, including innovating and developing the infant domestic peanut industry. We will then close out Carver’s career during his final years at the Tuskegee Institute. And, if it’s possible to do it justice, in the last section, I’ll wrap up with a final assessment of Carver’s legacy on those he touched directly, and also on those of us like you and me that he has touched indirectly.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. This article is the continuation of The Black Edison: Granville Woods. Mr. Guttag also wrote God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver as a part of this series. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
Granville Woods, circa 1887.
Now we come to what I consider the “fun” part of this article: Granville Woods’ inventions and patents. There are some who say that the number of patents Woods obtained is at least 60, may be even much higher. But from Professor Fouché’s book, I’ve only identified 45 patents for Woods which is still a pretty awesome figure. These patents may be divided into essentially 4 technology categories: (1) induction telegraphy of which there are 8 patents; (2) electrical railways of which there are 20 patents; (3) other electrical devices of which there are 13 patents; and (4) 4 patents on “other inventions” that don’t fall into any specific category.
I’m going to address in this article only the first category of inventions, induction telegraphy, for which Woods is most famous for.So why is induction telegraphy important? Well, here’s a hypothetical problem, one that Woods would understand quite well: A train station needs to communicate with train #1 to prevent a collision with train #2 heading towards train #1. (By the way, like Woods, I’m very fond of trains and railroads.) If the train station doesn’t communicate with train #1 about this impending collision with train #2, you might get the unfortunate scenario shown in the illustration above: the dreaded telescoping train crash. What you see here is the “head-on” variety of such a crash, but an even more deadly version may occur when a following train crashes into the rear of another slower or stationary train. So if we want to avoid this “bad boy” of train crashes, our train station has got to communicate with train #1 and quickly.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Each year February is Black History Month, but this year we will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this in mind we decided to do a series celebrating the important and innovative contributions of African-Americans. This article about Granville T. Woods, one of the most prolific and influential African-American inventors of all time, kicks off our celebration. Mr. Guttag also wrote God’s Scientist: George Washington Carver as a part of this series. Later this month we also will take a look at recent innovations coming out of historically black colleges and universities. For more on this topic please visit black inventorson IPWatchdog.com.
Granville T. Woods circa 1887.
As we’re about to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s appropriate to mention my interest in the biographies of African-Americans, and especially African-American inventors. For the past three Februarys, I’ve done presentations at our local library in conjunction with Black History Month and Martin Luther King Day. My presentations in February 2012 and 2013 focused on two significant African-American inventors. In this first article, I’m going to talk about my fellow Ohio native, Granville T. Woods, often referred to as “The Black Edison.”
I’ve now forgotten how I stumbled across Granville Woods, but once I did, I was amazed by his creative talent, as well as the prolific and diverse number of inventions he came up with. As a patent attorney now of over 36 years, I also became intrigued about how well Woods understood our patent system, as it existed in the late 19th Century, and tried to take advantage of it. As I also discovered, Woods wasn’t often successful in his entrepreneurial efforts to exploit what he invented, for reasons not always within his control, including, unfortunately, the fact that he was black. But he was certainly persistent in those efforts, and was later recognized for his truly creative genius by being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (now located in Akron) in 2006.
There’s an old expression that Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) “was an optimist.” That expression certainly applies to the recent Federal Circuit panel decision in Novartis AG v. Lee, as well as the companion decision in Exelixis, Inc. v. Lee on the meaning of the Patent Term Adjustment (PTA) Statute (35 U.S.C. § 154(b)), and particularly what’s called the “B period” portion (i.e., 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(1)(B)) of PTA. In Novartis, this Federal Circuit panel (opinion by Judge Taranto, joined by Judges Newman and Dyk) ruled that the second exclusion from PTA in the “B period” portion (i.e., 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(1)(B)(ii)) excludes from PTA any time consumed by a Request for Continued Examination (RCE), even if that RCE is filed more than 3 years after the “actual filing date” of the patent application. Not only is this ruling a questionable interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(1)(B)(ii) for reasons I’ll discuss below, but it creates an unfortunate, and surely unintended impact on RCEs specifically, as well as continuation practice generally. And the more I dig into the PTA statute, the more problematical this ruling in Novartis becomes.
Novartis also addresses another thorny issue of when a patent applicant dissatisfied with the PTA determination by the USPTO may timely challenge such a determination (i.e., 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(4)(A) (and which also went against the patentee, Novartis), but I’m going to focus solely on the B period exclusion issue. I’m also going to provide here a summary of the PTA statute as it relates to these 3 periods used for determining the cumulative PTA that the patent applicant gets. See the 2012 Eastern District of Virginia’s decision in Exelixis, Inc. v. Kappos which was vacated by the Federal Circuit’s companion decision to Novartis, and provides a nice, concise explanation of how these 3 periods work for determining the cumulative PTA owed the patent applicant.
Before I finally waded through the 135-page monstrosity called the en banc decision in CLS Bank International v. Alice Corp. (seven opinions, one a brief per curiam opinion, and six full opinions, including Chief Judge Rader at the end “waxing lyrically” about the “good old days” when he first joined the Federal Circuit), out came last Friday the remand decision in Ultramercial, LLC v. Hulu, LLC (Ultramercial II). I’ve already observed that Rader had “thrown down the gauntlet” at his Federal Circuit colleagues in Ultramercial I by stating that “breadth and lack of specificity does not render the claimed subject matter impermissibly abstract.” See Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Rader Rules in Utramercial that Breadth and Lack Specificity Does Not Make Claimed Method Impermissibly Abstract*. In Ultramercial II, Rader (again joined by Judge O’Malley but not completely by Judge Lourie) has squarely “thrown down the gauntlet” again, now before the Supreme Court to either clarify their “fuzzy” Bilski ruling, or “get out of the way” and let the Federal Circuit do the job it was created by Congress to do in 1982, namely be the primary arbiter of patent law jurisprudence, including patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
In Ultramercial I and II, the patentee (Ultramercial) asserted that U.S. Pat. No. 7,346,545 (the ‘545 patent) was infringed by Hulu, LLC (“Hulu”), YouTube, LLC (“YouTube”), and WildTangent, Inc. (“WildTangent”). The ‘545 patent relates to a method for distributing copyrighted products (e.g., songs, movies, books, etc.) over the Internet for free in exchange for viewing an advertisement with the advertiser paying for the copyrighted content. WildTangent’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim was granted by the district court based on the claimed method being patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. (Hulu and YouTube were dismissed from the case apparently for other reasons.)