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is a registered patent agent at Womble Bond Dickinson. He counsels clients in preparing and prosecuting patents in the electrical, telecommunications, computer software, and mechanical arts. In addition, he has 17 years of industry experience as a professional engineer, and is named as sole inventor or co-inventor on 15 granted patents. He practices in Womble Bond Dickinson’s Silicon Valley office.
For more information or to contact Chris, please visit his Firm Profile Page.
Since the Supreme Court decided Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International et al. on June 19, 2014, the number of patent application rejections by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the number of cases in the courts, and the uncertainty about whether an issued patent will hold up in court over an inquiry into patent subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. §101 have all increased. Dropbox, Inc., Orcinus Holdings, LLC, v. Synchronoss Technologies, Inc., decided June 19, 2020, is a relevant recent (albeit nonprecedential) ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that serves as a useful case study on what worked and went well and what didn’t for both plaintiff and defendant in a Section 101 case. At issue was the eligibility of Dropbox patents U.S. 6,178,505, U.S. 6,058,399 and U.S. 7,567,541.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided on October 3 to affirm the ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Delaware that the asserted claims of U.S. patent number 7,774,911 are directed to patent ineligible subject matter under Section101. Much has been written about the majority and dissenting opinions. Here, we concentrate on what the patent practitioner can do when drafting a patent application in light of the case. Whether one personally agrees or disagrees with the court ruling, and there are interesting comments in the dissent about both claim limitations and legal principles, the lessons from the court ruling are clear.
Recently, however, the USPTO and the Federal Circuit have both clarified that a patent agent’s communications related to his or her authorized practice are protected in the same manner as attorney client communications, such as those by patent attorneys… Further, state courts are not bound by USPTO rules or Federal Circuit law. Accordingly, to the extent a patent agent’s communications regarding his or her authorized practice are at issue in a state court proceeding that can’t be removed to a federal jurisdiction, the communications may not have the same protection as that provided in a federal court or AIA proceeding. Although the circumstances under which communications between a patent agent and a client would be discoverable in litigation in state court are limited, the potential admissibility in various states leaves a gap in the potential privilege.
One promising approach is to argue that the claims are directed to a specific technological solution to a specific technological problem, as has been successful in the courts. But, even this may not be convincing, if argued in the abstract, because, after all, we are dealing with abstract ideas to begin with, and it is all too easy for an examiner to dismiss an abstract argument as “not convincing”. A concrete, bright line test can be constructed, which may sway an examiner (or appeal board, if the rejection is appealed). Articulate a specific technological problem that the claims solve or are directed to solving. Analyze the claim and cite some of the important claim limitations that are not present in the alleged abstract idea, and explain the significance of these claim limitations in terms of the technological problem and technological solution.