In a few weeks the United States Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in Alice v. CLS Bank. At stake in this case is the future of software patents. Half of the Federal Circuit de facto ruled that software is patent ineligible. Of course they could not come right out and say that because it would contradict both settled Supreme Court precedent and patent laws enacted by Congress and codified in Title 35 of the United States Code. Nevertheless, the undeniable position of half of the Federal Circuit was that software is not patent eligible because to these Judges none of the claiming techniques that are used to write software patent claims result in patent eligible subject matter being claimed.
In preparation for the oral arguments we are shifting through the briefs. I have already written about the IBM brief, see Supreme Court “Abstract Idea Doctrine” is Unworkable. We plan multiple articles leading up to the oral argument that discusses the various briefs filed, and complete coverage of the oral arguments. Today, however, I write about the brief of the United States Government filed by the Solicitor General, which is simply disingenuous.
Truthfully, to call the Solicitor’s brief disingenuous is being charitable. The logic, if you can call it that, necessary for the Solicitor’s arguments to be correct is extraordinarily tortured, not to mention circular and dependent upon itself for support. The premise of the argument made by the Government is simply false. The Solicitor tells the Supreme Court that the patent claims in question are to an abstract idea, which is flat wrong. But in a bizarre twist the Solicitor pivots to then say that what is covered is not an abstract idea but it is not necessary for there to be an abstract idea protected in order for the claim to be patent ineligible as an abstract idea. Sadly, I’m not making this up.
The Federal Circuit has affirmed once again—this time in a sharply divided en banc decision—that it will subject a district court’s claim construction to de novo review on appeal. The case is Lighting Ballast Control v. Philips, and the appeal was the latest challenge to the standard of review set by the Federal Circuit over 15 years ago in Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc.
On the surface, this question of patent procedural law seems innocuous enough, but a glance at the title pages of the numerous amicus briefs (filed by an impressive roster of academic commentators and industry heavyweights) shows otherwise. The question of the appropriate standard of review for claim construction rulings is of immense importance to the patent bar.
At stake in Lighting Ballast was the Federal Circuit’s ruling 15 years ago in Cybor,that claim construction is subject to de novo review at the appellate level, despite the fact that the interpretation of patent terms often has factual underpinnings, a domain where trial judges are usually given a wide berth and significant deference. As the Supreme Court recognized in its landmark decision in Markman v. Westview Instruments, decided in 1996 shortly before Cybor, claim construction is a “mongrel practice” of both law and fact that often involves “construing a term of art following receipt of evidence.”
Cybor has been criticized both by Federal Circuit judges and by outside commentators, with most critics deriding Cybor’s blindness to the factual issues that are often implicit in the interpretation of what a patent means. While the question can sometimes be answered by reference to the terms of the patent alone—a traditional legal inquiry—it oftentimes also requires extrinsic evidence and the opinions of dueling experts on the state of the art and the technology in question—factual issues traditionally left alone absent “clear error.”
The oral argument schedule for the Supreme Court over the next few months is heavy on intellectual property cases.
The Court will hear oral argument as follows: on February 26, in two cases on granting (Octane Fitness) and reviewing (Highmark) attorneys’ fee awards; on March 31, in a case (Alice Corp.) on patent eligibility of system and computer-implemented method claims; on April 21, in a case (POM Wonderful) on claims under Section 43 of the Lanham Act challenging labels regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; on April 22, in a case (Aereo) on whether a provider of broadcast television programming over the Internet violates a copyright owner’s public performance right; on April 28, in a case (Nautilus) on the proper standard for finding indefiniteness invalidity for patents; and on April 30, in a case (Limelight) on joint liability for method claim infringement where all of the claimed steps are performed but not by a single entity.
What follows is the Introduction and Summary of the Argument included in the IBM amicus brief filed at the United States Supreme Court in Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International. While many attorneys contributed to this brief, as you will see them listed on the front cover, former Solicitor General of the United States Paul D. Clement is the Counsel of Record.
I think it is fair to say that the theme that comes through the loudest in the IBM brief is this: The abstract idea doctrine is unworkable. To that I say a resounding AMEN! If the Supreme Court cannot or will not tell us what an abstract idea is how can we any longer pretend that the jurisprudential path the Court has taken will lead to predictability? At least insofar as software is concerned there is a complete and total lack of predictability. There is also no uniform application of the law, which at least conceptually should raise concerns of disparate treatment of those similarly situated.
Below I provide additional thoughts on the IBM Summary of the Argument in the format of comments from the peanut gallery, or perhaps as a patent law equivalent to Mystery Science Theater 3000. In order to differentiate my thoughts/comments from IBM amicus brief, my comments are italicized, colored, indented and tagged with the IPWatchdog logo.
On January 6, 2014, I had an on the record conversation with Donald Chisum and Janice Mueller, both exceptional and well known patent scholars in their own right. Together Chisum and Mueller form the faculty of the Chisum Academy, which offers a three-day intense seminar that is limited to ten (10) participants.
In part 1 of the interview we discussed patent reform and started to discuss patent eligibility, particularly as it relates to software. We pick up the discussion there.
QUINN:In looking back, Justice Stevens’ decision in Bilski had pieces that would have made for a much easier régime to live under because he did say in one in particular area that the innovation in question in State Street was patentable because it was a device. I’m optimistic that we’re going to get something good out of the Supreme Court in CLS Bank. But having said that, I’m still worried, because it seems to me that they totally missed the boat in Mayo where they said we’re not going to follow the solicitor’s invitation to let sections 102, 103, or 112 invalidate that claim. That wasn’t really an invitation, that’s what the statute mandates and up until then Mayo that was always what the Supreme Court had mandated. So you just never know what you’re going to get from the Supreme Court, but I can’t imagine we’re going to get anything less intelligible than the Federal Circuit en banc decision in CLS Bank. Now Janice, you have spent a lot of time teaching patent law to students. How would you describe that decision to people who are new to this field?
Don Chisum (left) and Janice Mueller (right) at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
I’ve known Janice Mueller for a number of years dating back to when she was a full time Professor of Law. Mueller wrote, in my opinion, one of the best summaries of patent law and I recommended it to my patent law students, as well as new practitioners, inventors and entrepreneurs. She has now left full time teaching, but she has not left patent scholarship behind. She is now the author of a patent treatise and she co-teaches in the Chisum Academy with Donald Chisum, who everyone in the patent world knows from his definitive encyclopedia of patent law titled simple Chisum on Patents.
Recently Mueller wrote to me to let me know about the upcoming Advanced Patent Law Seminar that the Chisum Academy will host in Cincinnati from March 5, 2013 through March 7, 2013. I floated the idea of doing an on the record conversation with her and Don Chisum, which they both accepted.
In this two-part conversation we discuss everything patents, from patent reform legislation, to patent litigation abuse, to how the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit are handling patent matters and much more.
Without further ado, here is my conversation with these two preeminent patent scholars.
In the CLS Bank v. Alice Corp upcoming Supreme Court case, Alice poses the question… “Whether claims to computer-implemented inventions – including claims to systems and machines, processes, and items of manufacture – are directed to patent-eligible subject matter…”
That’s absolutely the wrong way to phrase a question about inventions. Equally wrong is the same boiled down twin sister question “Is software patentable” which has now been debated around the world for almost 50 years.
As the recipient of the first software patent in 1968 and a founder of Applied Data Research (ADR), the first company to market software products, I have intensely followed and written about the software patent controversy for almost 50 years.
Here’s why the Alice question should not be answered by the Supreme Court in its present form.
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.
Without hesitation I recommend One Simple Idea and think it should be required reading for any motivated inventor. There is so much to like about the book and so much that I think author Stephen Key nails dead on accurate. The book is educational, information and inspirational. For the $14 cover price it is essential reading.
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