Justice Kagan delivered the opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court.
Vernon Bowman is a 75-year-old, recently bankrupt small farmer in Indiana. Monsanto is a multinational corporation that is revered in the industry for its innovations in the field of genetically modified seed technologies, but equally reviled in the American heartland for its staunch protection and ruthless enforcement of its patent rights against small farmers. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided with Monsanto in finding that Bowman had infringed Monsanto’s patents on genetically altered soybean seeds. This would translate into tens of thousands of dollars in liability for the small farmer. Those reacting purely emotionally to the story will be inclined to sympathize with the small farmer. And recalling Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, they would lament, “The small farmer was weary and frightened because he had gone against a system he did not understand and it had beaten him.” However, the Court’s decision is merely a classical application of basic patent principles.
For years, Vernon Bowman purchased Roundup Ready® soybean seeds from a Monsanto affiliate each year for his main crop of the season. The purchase required Bowman’s assent to a licensing agreement, which prohibited Bowman from saving any of the seeds for replanting. For his late-season second crop, however, Bowman would attempt to skirt Monsanto’s licensing agreement and instead purchase commodity soybean seeds from a grain elevator. The commodity soybean seeds are normally tagged for human or animal consumption only. Anticipating that a batch of commodity soybean seeds would surely contain some Roundup Ready® seeds, Bowman planted the seeds, applied Roundup herbicide to his fields, selectively recovered soybeans exhibiting the Roundup Ready® trait, and saved those seeds for further plantings. Bowman harvested eight late-season crops in this way.
After providing the filing I explained that there are better ways to approach the situation, but I also looked into some publicly available statistics to see whether there was any explainable frustration that may have been experienced by this attorney. That part of the article looking at the statistics painted an inaccurate and unfair picture. I write today to set the record straight.
The examiner who was sent this inappropriate filing is a junior examiner — Examiner Valvis — who has been with the Patent Office only 8 months. In the article I suggested that there was reason for frustration. What I inartfully was trying to say was that at first glance there seemed to be a reason to be frustrated because in the database consulted there was no evidence of any patents being issued in 66 applications worked on. I then said: “But with only 66 applications total that might not be surprising.” It isn’t surprising because new examiners begin work on new cases and most cases are not allowed on a first office action. So someone who has only 66 applications was clearly a junior person and the pool simply too small to draw any conclusions one way or another.
Judge Lourie, who was joined by Judges Dyk, Prost, Reyna and Wallach, in CLS Bank v. Alice Corp. wrote: “At its most basic, a computer is just a calculator capable of performing mental steps faster than a human could. Unless the claims require a computer to perform operations that are not merely accelerated calculations, a computer does not itself confer patent eligibility.”
One way that Judges probe generalized statements is to look for the boundaries to test the logic. If the statement cannot be stretched to apply to even similar scenarios then the logic of the statement is questioned and believed to be faulty and self-serving. So let’s see if the above statement can withstand even modest scrutiny.
The statement above, by any fair reading, says that if the core of the invention is something that a human could do but slower then the subject matter is patent ineligible. So what about robots? Robots are more efficient, stronger and faster than humans, but a human can do what a robot can do. So are robots patentable?
Chief Judge Rader’s band De Novo should play a dirge tonight.
On May 10, the Federal Circuit issued its en banc opinion in CLS Bank. Within 48 hours, I had twice read the 135 page decision. It may be a bullet to the head of the software industry. Don’t take my word for it: four different judges say so:
And let’s be clear: if all of these claims, including the system claims, are not patent-eligible, this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents. If all of the claims of these four patents are ineligible, so too are the 320,799 patents which were granted from 1998-2011 in the technology area “Electrical Computers, Digital Processing Systems, Information Security, Error/Fault Handling.” Every patent in this technology category covers inventions directed to computer software or to hardware that implements software. In 2011 alone, 42,235 patents were granted in this area. This would render ineligible nearly 20% of all the patents that actually issued in 2011. If the reasoning of Judge Lourie’s opinion were adopted, it would decimate the electronics and software industries. There are, of course, software, financial system, business method and telecom patents in other technology classes which would also be at risk. So this is quite frankly a low estimate. There has never been a case which could do more damage to the patent system than this one.
That parade of horribles is not entirely fair to Judge Lourie’s concurrence. Judge Lourie based his opinion on the fact that the disputed patent is directed not just to electronics, but to an insignificant use of modern electronics to implement an arguably basic financial transaction. I doubt that Judge Lourie would expand the holding in CLS Bank far beyond that specific fact pattern. Nevertheless, as quoted above, the dissenting judges do not share even this much optimism.
After the Federal Circuit issued its en banc decision on May 10, 2013 in CLS Bank v. Alice Corp, the patent owner Alice Corp must be feeling like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, bewildered and frightened by the fantastical situation in which they find themselves:
(1) “bewildered” because an equally divided Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that Alice’s claimed system to tangible machine components including a first party device, a data storage unit, a second party device, a computer, and a communications controller, programmed with specialized functions consistent with detailed algorithms disclosed in the patent, constitutes a patent ineligible “abstract idea;”
(2) “frightened” because, as Judge Moore puts it, “this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents” (Moore Op. at 2); and
One month after our last check into Oracle Corporation, IPWatchdog is back to see how the database management system developer has been faring at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Along with database management, the technology developer is also involved with the innovation of enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and customer relationship software.
Many of the recent patent applications filed by Oracle and published by the USPTO showcase the company’s focus on providing software business solutions. These patent applications seek protections for improvements to enterprise software, including voice control and more efficient upgrades for enterprise planning and management software. Another application lays out a system of smart allocation for resources within a supply chain.
Oracle is also involved with efficiency upgrades to enterprise software, especially those that would benefit small businesses. Another patent application filed by Oracle would improve the reaction time for queries registered within a Model-View-Controller online database application. An official patent awarded to Oracle this month provides a better deployment model for small firms who manufacture and sell software applications.
While the Supreme Court has done away with the “useful, concrete and tangible result” test from State Street Bank v. Signature Financial, in Bilski v. Kappos, 8 out of 9 Justices (i.e., everyone except Justice Scalia) signed onto an opinion that recognized that the patent claims in State Street displayed patent eligible subject matter. Indeed, the dissenters in Bilski specifically acknowledged that the claims at issue in State Street did not deal with processes, but dealt with machines. See Footnote 40 of the Steven’s dissent.
The import of this is that machines are specifically patent eligible subject matter, so if the claims of State Street are to machines then claims that are similarly configured would also be directed to machines and therefore patent eligible. So if the systems claims at issue in CLS Bank v. Alice Corp. are configured similarly to those that now stand invalid that would mean that Judges Lourie, Dyk, Prost, Reyna and Wallach have ignored the Supreme Court. Any fair comparison of the claims, as shown below, demonstrates this rather conclusively.
Similarly, the United States Supreme Court famously ruled in Diamond v. Diehr, that the United States Patent and Trademark Office inappropriately rejected claims to a computerized process for molding raw, uncured synthetic rubber into cured precision products. Ultimately, thanks to the decision of the Supreme Court the inventors, Diehr and Lutton, received U.S. Patent No. 4,344,142. If the claims in Diamond v. Diehrare similar to those that now stand invalid that would be further proof the Federal Circuit as a whole has ignored the Supreme Court.
By now most are likely already familiar with the unfortunate reality that the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a non-decision in CLS Bank v. Alice Corporation on Friday, May 10, 2013. There were 10 judges who heard the case en banc, with 7 of the 10 finding that the method claims and computer-readable medium claims were not patent eligible. While there may be reasonable room for a difference of opinion relative to those claims, it was the system claims that specifically and clearly recited tangible structure that has thrown the patent law of software into such disarray. 5 Judges would have found that the systems claims were patent ineligible (Judges Lourie, Dyk, Prost, Reyna and Wallach), and 5 Judges would have found the systems claims were patentable subject matter (Chief Judge Rader, Judges Newman, Moore, Linn and O’Malley). For more see Federal Circuit Nightmare in CLS Bank and 5 CAFC Judges Say Computer Patentable, Not Software and Did the CAFC Ignore the Supreme Court in CLS Bank?
Today, however, I want to write about one of the more bizarre passages I have ever seen in any decision, and then pose an almost unthinkable question: Is IBM’s Watson still patent eligible in the view of Judges Lourie, Dyk, Prost, Reyna and Wallach?
First, let’s start with the passage. Judge Lourie, who was joined by Judges Dyk, Prost, Reyna and Wallach, actually wrote: “At its most basic, a computer is just a calculator capable of performing mental steps faster than a human could. Unless the claims require a computer to perform operations that are not merely accelerated calculations, a computer does not itself confer patent eligibility.”
Well, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sort of decided CLS Bank v. Alice Corporation earlier today. Truthfully, all the important questions that we thought might be answered remain completely and totally unanswered because there were only 10 judges who sat on the en banc tribunal and no more than 5 judges signed on to any one opinion.
The only thing we know is this — the Federal Circuit issued an extraordinarily brief per curiam decision, which stated:
Upon consideration en banc, a majority of the court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted method and computer-readable media claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. An equally divided court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted system claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under that statute.
Thus, all of the asserted claims are not patent eligible. At the moment I am completely flabbergasted and don’t know what to say.
Senator Birch Bayh (right) with then Staffer Joe Allen (left) in a Bayh-Dole Act hearing in 1980.
As I sat there this morning having breakfast and drinking my coffee I was reading Innovation, which has as its tag line America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization.
Really? I find it impossible to believe that a magazine that purports to be a journal of technology commercialization would publish the complete and utter nonsense that I read this morning.
Newsflash… Bayh-Dole is objectively positive and has been extraordinarily successful in its mission. The FACTS are overwhelming. Anyone who suggests Bayh-Dole is anything other than successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams is simply not being honest and is ignoring factual evidence. Indeed, detractors frequently make arguments that fly directly in the face of facts. Many believe they simply lie or make up what they are saying to forward their own agenda.
One of the central policy issues injected into the current case of AMP v. Myriad Genetics is whether the BRCA patents are good for innovation and ultimately for patients. Specifically, ACLU and PubPat allege that the patents have hindered research, blocked innovation, and harmed patient access to BRCA testing. No matter how many times these allegations are repeated, all available evidence shows concerns over research and innovation to be unfounded. More importantly, two natural experiments give us an opportunity to evaluate actual patient access to testing, the ultimate measure of whether the patents are doing their job of incentivizing delivery of new technology to the public. Both of these experiments show that exclusive licensing of strong “gene patents” not only does not harm patient access to quality testing, but is instead vital to it.
In the impassioned words of Linda Bruzzone, a Lynch syndrome mutation carrier and head of Lynch Syndrome International: “Many of us with Lynch Syndrome wish there had been a patent in place for us. It would have protected us and perhaps protected the lives of our loved ones.” L. Bruzzone, Oral Comments at USPTO Public Roundtable on Genetic Diagnostic Testing (January 10, 2013).
International Business Machines Corporation of Armonk, NY, is a technology development and consultant agency that provides information technology for business solutions. IBM is a huge player in the world of technology research and development, and the company currently has the distinction of being awarded the most U.S. patents every year for the past 20 years, according to business publication Bloomberg. These factors make IBM a major focus for IPWatchdog, as we continue our regular series of following U.S. Patent & Trademark Office publications regarding American technology firms. See Companies We Follow.
Within the past month, many IBM patent applications published by the USPTO show a desire to improve multimedia experiences on many computer devices. Patent applications filed by IBM include systems for improving secure access of licensed content and another providing a more viewer-responsive experience for watching live events.
IBM is still heavily involved with the development of business applications for computer systems. To that end, the company has filed patent applications for a system of capturing the workflow process of an employee accessing project software. Another application creates a visualization of temporal event data to aid in medical diagnostic processes. One official patent awarded to IBM protects a system of providing feedback to publishers from their subscribers.
The Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation currently has an open Call for Nominations for the 40th Annual Inventor of the Year Award. Nominations are due by May 15, 2013, and the winner (and the nominators) will be honored on Monday, December 10, 2013, in Washington, D.C. at a gala event. Last year the awards ceremony was attended by approximately 300 people, with the event being held in the old Patent Office building in Washington, DC, which is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. In my opinion, the IPO Inventor of the Year award ceremony is one of the best events our industry hosts, and one I look forward to every year.
The purpose of the award is to increase public awareness of inventors and how they benefit the nation’s economy and our quality of life. To accomplish this goal the IPO Inventor of the Year Award recognizes the most outstanding recent inventor (or inventors in the case of joint invention). Thus, nominations are being solicited from independent inventors, as well as inventors employed in industry, universities, and government. While some of the material you may have read indicates that the invention must be U.S. centric, inventions originating outside the U.S. are eligible for the award.
If you do decide to nominate someone keep in mind the invention must be of recent vintage. This is not a lifetime achievement award as would be the case with the Inventors Hall of Fame, for example.
Microsoft Corporation, headquartered in Redmond, WA, is an American leader in developing and manufacturing computer services products, including Microsoft Office document software suites and Microsoft Windows operating systems. As a leader in the computer services market, Microsoft is a regular each week at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. This week, we return to see what the Washington State-based technology juggernaut has been up to lately.
As always, many patent applications show Microsoft’s focus on improving their software for business applications. Different Microsoft patent applications this week provide for systems of sharing meeting notes within office software, mapping identities to keep important business documents secure as well as using serious games to identify talent within an organization.
Other USPTO documents of note show that the computer developer is also trying to reach beyond this market. Another patent application would protect a system of creating digital memorabilia for events. Also, one patent awarded to Microsoft protects a system of identifying different users on a touchscreen.
Design patents have been making the news. Last summer, Apple’s $1.05 billion verdict against Samsung was famously based, in part, on the finding that Samsung infringed Apple’s rounded-rectangle and edge-to-edge glass designs. Since then, Yamaha, Thule, Oakley, Nike and Spanx, to name just a few, have litigated in the U.S. over the design of headphones, ski racks, sunglasses, footwear and women’s undergarments. And just last month, former head of the USPTO, David Kappos, published an OpEd piece describing design as “the new frontier of intellectual property.”
Nothing has fundamentally changed about the nature of design patents. The first US design patent was granted in 1842. The Statue of Liberty, Coke bottle, Volkswagen Beatle, Stealth Bomber and Star Wars’ Yoda are all protected by design patents. Design patents have long played an important role in consumer electronics, automotive, apparel, jewelry, packaging and other industries.
But industrial design is becoming increasingly important, Mr. Kappos explains, because the increasing functionality of man-made devices brings with it increasing complexity, so innovative companies are constantly seeking superior designs, a convergence of form and function that helps make the complex simple and sets their companies apart; and protecting such designs is critical.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
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