Posts Tagged: "patentable subject matter"

SUCCESS Act Comments Are In: Access, Enforceability, Predictability Concerns Underscored

In May, the USPTO held the first of three hearings prompted by the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science (SUCCESS) Act, which requires the USPTO Director to provide Congress with a report on publicly available patent data on women, minorities, and veterans, and to provide recommendations on how to promote their participation in the patent system. The hearing featured emotional testimony from five inventors, one of whom said she had joined Debtors Anonymous as a result of her patent being invalidated in the Southern District of New York.Responses to the USPTO’s request for written comment on 11 questions the Office had posed have now been published. Eleven organizations and 58 individuals submitted comments, underscoring a range of concerns. While many organizations focused on the need to collect demographic information and increase exposure to STEM education at the K-12 level, a number of other organizations and individuals emphasized the broader issue that was addressed during the hearing in May—that the current patent system is stacked against the individual inventor across demographics.

Clarity Needed on the STRONGER Patents Act’s Approach to Validity Determinations

The “Support Technology and Research for Our Nation’s Growth and Economic Resilience Patents Act of 2019” or the “STRONGER Patents Act of 2019,” currently under consideration as Senate Bill 2082 and House Resolution 3666, poses questions about the types of decisions that would operate to bar inter partes review (IPR) and post-grant review (PGR) of patent claims. The STRONGER Patents Act is an effort to cure some of the perceived infirmities in the U.S. patent system. While prior versions—introduced in 2015 and 2017—were more wide-ranging, the STRONGER Patents Act of 2019 primarily focuses on the availability of injunctive relief and the susceptibility of patents to IPR and PGR. Among other changes, the bill would effectively overrule the Supreme Court’s eBay v. MercExchange decision, require inter partes and post-grant review petitioners to prove invalidity by clear and convincing evidence, permit only one such review of any given patent claim, and purport to finally end the occasional practice of diverting some the USPTO fees from its operations. While much can (and has) been written about the merits of such reforms, the present comment specifically considers the proposed “Priority of Federal Court Validity Determinations.”

Understanding the Difference Between Preemption and Novelty/Nonobviousness

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“the Federal Circuit”) issued its opinion in Solutran, Inc. v. Elavon, Inc., 2019-1345, 2019-1460 (Fed. Cir., July 30, 2019) in which the Court held claims 1-5 of Solutran’s U.S. Patent No. 8,311,945 invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 for failing to recite patent eligible subject matter. In reversing the District Court, the Federal Circuit found that the claims of the patent recited an abstract idea (electronically processing paper checks) and that the claims failed to transform that abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter. More importantly, the Federal Circuit dismissed Solutran’s argument that the claims were patent eligible simply because they were novel and non-obvious, noting that: “We have previously explained that merely reciting an abstract idea by itself in a claim—even if the idea is novel and non-obvious—is not enough to save it from ineligibility.” The Solutran decision is not the first time the Federal Circuit has held that novelty/non-obviousness does not bear on the question of patent eligibility.

First Jury Verdict on Section 101 Inquiry Post-Berkheimer Finds Asserted Claims Routine and Conventional

On September 12, a jury verdict form  entered in an Eastern District of Texas patent infringement case found in favor of defendant Jack Henry & Associates on its defenses of noninfringement and invalidity regarding patent claims asserted by plaintiff PPS Data. According to information provided to IPWatchdog, the verdict marks the first time that a jury has invalidated a patent under Section 101 since the February 2018 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Berkheimer v. HP Inc., where the appellate court held that factual questions underlie the Section 101 inquiry.

A Strange Evolution: The Federal Circuit Has Entered the Theater of the Absurd

Something has happened at the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit over the past six months. After inching forward in a positive direction on patent eligibility, the entire court, including those judges who had been on the pro-patent eligibility wing of the court, have fallen, slipped, or just given up. The precisely correct characterization remains elusive given the traditional, characteristic and appropriate secrecy that surrounds judicial tribunals. As constitutional officers charged with independently deciding cases, judges take few speaking engagements. Even when they do, they generally speak off the record, and never speak about specific issues or cases that may at some point come before them. In this industry, that means little discussion is had between the bench and bar relating to matters of patent eligibility outside the record, which is itself unfortunate. If the judges of the Federal Circuit would sit through a conference exploring patent eligibility as it applies to the software and biotechnology industries, they would learn much about the uncertainty their decisions are causing. Still, something undeniably has changed.

O’Malley and Chen Disagree in Part with PTAB Determination in CBM Review, Distinguishing Chamberlain

The Federal Circuit issued a precedential decision on Wednesday reversing-in-part, vacating and remanding a decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board that had found certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 8,908,842 (the ’842 patent) subject to covered business method review, patent ineligible and unpatentable for obviousness. SIPCO LLC v. Emerson Electric (Fed. Cir., Sept. 25, 2019). Judge Reyna dissented in part. In a footnote, the Court distinguished its reasoning from its finding in the garage door-opener case, Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Techtronic Industries Co., in which the Court found claims reciting wireless communication of status information about a movable barrier operator to be directed to an abstract idea. “Unlike in Chamberlain, SIPCO’s claimed invention does not simply use “well understood,” off-the-shelf wireless technology for its intended purpose of communicating information,” said the Court.

Blame for the Weakened U.S. Patent System Cannot Be Pinned on the PTAB Alone

It is time to recognize the elephant in the room. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) is broken. And, if we want to be perfectly fair and reasonable in our assessment of the reasons that the PTAB is failing, the blame must trace all the way back to Congress. The creation of three new ways to invalidate patent rights was at best ill-conceived. The manner in which it was done clearly put the finger of infringers on the scale of justice. The creation of an open-ended second window for patents to endlessly be challenged without title ever quieting and ownership ever settling is making a mockery of patent ownership.

Patent Eligibility Under Section 101: Has the United States ‘TRIPPED’ Up?

The present U.S. eligibility jurisprudence, and especially that of the Federal Circuit, not only creates serious issues of U.S. domestic law but also arguably places the U.S. in violation of its obligations under the TRIPS treaty with respect to inventions at both ends of the subject-matter spectrum. Acts of Congress, including Section 101, where fairly possible, ought to be construed so as not to conflict with international law or with an international agreement with the United States, particularly where, as with TRIPS, the United States was the moving spirit behind the treaty. See Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804). Although there may have been room for doubt prior to the en banc refusal in Athena and the Australian decision in Ariosa, it is submitted following Judge Moore’s dissent that the situation has become a virtual certainty.

Iancu Calls for Section 101 Fix in Address to AIPPI Congress

USPTO Director Andrei Iancu said “something has to be done about” Section 101, as it has been thrown into flux following various U.S. Supreme Court cases, in comments made at the AIPPI Congress in London, United Kingdom last week. Iancu took part in an hour-long discussion with AIPPI Reporter General John Osha, and also took questions from the audience last Monday. He addressed topics including AI, anti-IP sentiment, litigation costs, bad faith trademark filings and gender parity. But it was issues of patent eligibility that were chief on his mind. Iancu said the Administration “has tried to bring consistency and predictability” to Section 101 with its January 2019 guidance, but added: “Courts are independent. They don’t have to follow our guidance. And so far, I have seen no evidence that they want to.”

Beyond the Slice and Dice: Turning Your Idea into an Invention

The patent process actually starts well before you file a patent application or seek assistance from a patent attorney. Every patent application starts with an invention, and every invention starts with an idea. While ideas are not patentable, there will be a point in time when the idea you are working on comes so into focus  with enough detail that it will cross the idea / invention boundary.  It is when an idea matures to the point of being concrete and tangible enough to be described to another that the idea has become an invention, at least in general terms.

A Step Forward for the STRONGER Patents Act

The bipartisan STRONGER Patents Act of 2019 took an important step forward last week, as the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property held a hearing on the proposed legislation. Senators Tillis and Coons, the Subcommittee’s Chairman and Ranking Member, should be commended for holding the hearing and focusing attention on our patent system’s role in promoting American innovation and job creation. As several of the hearing witnesses made clear in their testimony, our patent system has been dangerously weakened in recent years through a series of judicial, legislative, and administrative changes. These changes have undermined patent rights and made it difficult for inventors to protect their innovations from infringement. Meanwhile, our foreign competitors, including China and Europe, have strengthened their patent rights. This has put us at a competitive disadvantage and helped contribute to a trend of both innovation and venture capital increasingly moving overseas. For example, the U.S. share of global venture capital fell from 66% in 2010 to 40% in 2018, while China’s share increased from 12% to 38% in the same time period. And despite more than a decade of economic growth following the Great Recession of 2007-2009, startup formation has failed to return to its pre-recession levels.

Other Barks & Bites, Friday, September 13: CASE Act Moves Out of Committee, Iancu Discusses SEPs and PTAB Designates Two Decisions as Precedential

This week in Other Barks & Bites: the Federal Circuit issued precedential decisions regarding secondary considerations of non-obviousness, limits to design patents and collateral estoppel of antitrust claims in patent cases; the CASE Act moved out of the House Judiciary Committee towards a floor vote; AIPLA reported increasing prices for trade secret and pharmaceutical patent lawsuits; the PTAB designated a pair of precedential decisions that limit IPR institutions; the DOJ identified two foreign nationals in GE Aviation trade secret case; LeBron James and Ohio State University lost their respective trademark bids; USPTO Director Iancu talked about balancing innovation and preventing hold-up in the SEP context; Google agreed to a $1 billion fine over European tax evasion; and the UKIPO reported lower patent application filing levels for 2018.

If You Want to Protect Your Business Method, Reframe It as a Technical Invention

The most effective way to protect an inventive business method is with a patent on a technical invention. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Alice decision, the U.S. courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have consistently held that you can’t patent a business method by itself. The Alice decision overturned several related business method patents as being nothing more than an attempt to patent a fundamental economic process. Lower court decisions have since affirmed that “no matter how groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant” a business method might be, you still can’t patent it. The only way to use patents, therefore, to protect business method inventions, is to patent the technological inventions required to make the business methods work. These inventions will be patentable since they will “improve the functioning of the computer itself.” See Buysafe, Inc., v. Google, Inc. 765 F.3d 1350 (2014) citing Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2107, 2116, 186 L.Ed.2d 124 (2013).

Federal Circuit Is Hesitant to Construe Patent Claims in the First Instance on Appeal

The Federal Circuit recently vacated and remanded a decision by the Northern District of California granting a motion on the pleadings that claims related to “toolbars” on computers were ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Court, holding that the district court failed to address a claim construction dispute, was “hesitant to construe patent claims in the first instance on appeal” and remanded for further proceedings. Judge Lourie authored a dissent, finding the claims to be “clearly abstract, regardless of claim construction,” and opined that he would have affirmed the district court’s holding. See MyMail, Ltd. v. ooVoo, LLC, Nos. 2018-1758, 2018-1759, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 24430 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 16, 2019) (Before Lourie, O’Malley, and Reyna, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Reyna, Circuit Judge) (Dissenting opinion, Lourie, Circuit Judge).

Alice: Benevolent Despot or Tyrant? Analyzing Five Years of Case Law Since Alice v. CLS Bank: Part I

It’s been five years since the Supreme Court remade the law of patent eligibility in Alice Corp Pty Ltd v. CLS Bank Int’l. As we all know, in Alice the Supreme Court dictated that patent-eligible subject matter is determined based on a two-step test. The application of this test under Queen Alice’s reign has drastically altered the patent landscape. Over 1,000 patents have been invalidated by the federal courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), while over 60,000 patent applications have been abandoned before the USPTO following rejections for patent ineligible subject matter. Patents and portfolios in many fields – particularly software and biotechnology – have declined in value or simply become unsaleable at any price. Defenders of Queen Alice and her critics go back and forth endlessly, driven by differing permutations of ideology, technology, judicial philosophy and business goals. I have contributed my share to those discussions, no doubt. But today, let’s get down to data and see what has really happened under Queen Alice’s rule.