Published 04/02/2016 by M. Cionca and I. Kim
In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l (“Alice”) that the claims in the four disputed software-based patents owned by Alice Corp. were directed to an “abstract idea,” and thus were patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101. The Supreme Court’s decision was based on the reasoning that the claims were said not to be more than instructions for implementating an abstract idea, the idea of intermediated settlement using a generic computer. This decision soon led to much confusion about software invention patentability and impacted how this patentability is evaluated by patent practitioners and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) examiners alike.
The USPTO then issued “2014 Interim Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility” after Alice, which details the subject matter eligibility analysis for claims, providing a baseline guidance for examiners. The USPTO then supplemented that guidance with eight sets of example claims directed to computer-implemented inventions or software inventions. Four example are directed to patent-eligible subject matter while the other four sets recite patent-ineligible matter. Practice revealed that some examiners are not familiar with these relatively recent examples. When this is the case, it falls upon the patent practitioners to make their cases by bringing these guidelines and examples to the examiners’ attention.
Example 3 of the USPTO’s set of eight examples uses a two-step test, commonly referred to as the Mayo test. This test was used in Example 3 to analyze the patentability of a claim reciting digital image processing by generating a noise mask. Step 1 checks whether the invention (here, a process) belongs to a statutory category of invention and, if so, whether it is a “judicial exception” such as an abstract idea. Generating a mask was found to be an abstract idea. However, when examined as a whole in Step 2, the claim represents more than that abstract idea. Step 2 of the two-step test is to search for elements that show an inventive concept. Here, the process of comparing and converting data were found to add meaningful limitations, “improve the functioning of the claimed computer” and result in an “improved digital image.” The claim is thus patentable, and Example 3 can be used as support that for the idea that software claims can still be patentable.
Still, examiners may issue automatic 101 rejections for any software-based or computer-implemented inventions. These rejections can and do happen. When this is the case, patent practitioners must appropriately respond, and they can point out that examiners cannot issue automatic rejections without a fact-based reasoning behind the rejection. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board held in Ex Parte Poisson (February 26, 2015) that examiners must provide an evidence-based prima facie case of patent ineligibility, and the Poisson case provides a clear example of this.
DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245 (Fed. Cir. 2014) was a significant decision from the Federal Circuit as being the first to uphold the subject matter eligibility of computer-implemented claims after Alice. This decision is a strong example showing that software-related inventions can still be patentable. Here, it was shown that claims directed to making an improvement to a computer system or solving a problem within the system may be patentable. More specifically, the Federal Circuit saw that “the claimed solution is necessarily rooted in computer technology to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks” (DDR Holdings) leading to their conclusion that these claims “specify how interactions with the Internet are manipulated to yield a desired result” and “recite an invention that is not merely the routine or conventional use of the Internet.”
Although some confusion still remains regrading software patent eligibility, it is important to adopt a thorough approach not only to drafting these software patent applications, but also to working with and even educating the USPTO examiners. Particularly after Alice, broad subject matter eligibility in the claims can and should be advocated for by patent practitioners, who must also advocate for their clients’ cases to be handled properly.
Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-298_7lh8.pdf
DDR Holdings v. Hotels.com: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/13-1505.Opinion.12-3-2014.1.PDF
Marin11/18/2015 6:11:11 PM
PTAB Decisions Give Examples of Patent Eligible Subject Matter
Marin11/18/2015 6:15:40 PM
Covered Business Method Claims Are Not Required to Particularly Target Financial Industry
Marin11/18/2015 7:31:35 PM
When Is a Thesis Prior Art?
Marin11/19/2015 2:13:05 PM
An Innovator’s Dilemma: Design or Utility Patent?
Marin1/28/2016 9:10:56 PM
How Unpredictability Can Affect Obviousness Challenges
Marin1/28/2016 9:15:16 PM
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Designates Two Decisions as Precedential
M. Cionca and I. Kim2/4/2016 5:55:16 PM
Software Inventions Are Still Patentable!
Marin Cionca2/16/2016 6:34:53 PM
In IPRs, patentees have to show that substitute patent claims are patentable
I. Kim PhD2/26/2016 8:47:51 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court Will Review Claim Construction Standards and Institution Decision Reviewability.
Iris Kim, PhD3/25/2016 8:34:14 PM
Challenging a Claim’s Validity with Different Standards of Claim Construction
Marin Cionca5/17/2016 8:57:23 PM
Patent Claims Rejection Based on Inherency
Iris Kim, PhD6/1/2016 7:04:50 PM
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Designates Five More Decisions as Precedential
Marin Cionca9/6/2016 9:26:12 PM
Patent Case Law: New Example of Software as Patentable Subject Matter
Marin Cionca9/15/2016 9:47:39 PM
Patent Law Alert: Federal Circuit Opens Door for More Software Patents
Marin Cionca2/21/2017 12:30:52 AM
Software Patent Law Update: Federal Circuit Finds Graphical User Interface Patentable
Marin Cionca4/25/2017 9:48:49 PM
Monetization of Patents: How to Make Money with Patents
CIONCA - Staff6/15/2017 5:32:14 PM
Patent Law: Challenging the Patent Claim Definiteness Requirement
CIONCA - Staff6/28/2017 8:26:07 PM
Patent Law: Conditions Precedent May Expose Method Claim to Broad Interpretation During Prosecution
CIONCA - Staff8/9/2017 5:39:58 PM
Patent Case Study: The Novelty Of An “Invention” Is NOT Enough To Make It Patentable
CIONCA Staff8/20/2017 3:16:11 PM
CIONCA on Patents: Think Twice Before Suing for Patent Infringement and Fight Back when Unreasonably Sued
staff9/15/2017 9:33:30 PM
staff9/27/2017 5:00:12 PM
Claim Indefiniteness During Patent Pre-Issuance: Define Your Invention, Not Just Your Audience
staff9/27/2017 5:12:07 PM
CIONCA - Patent and Trademark Law Attorney
Staff9/28/2017 7:27:22 PM
Staff11/3/2017 4:20:04 PM
An Introduction to Provisional Patent Applications
11/10/2017 6:47:44 PM
An Introduction to Design Patent Applications
11/17/2017 1:24:20 PM
An Introduction to Patent Searches
12/1/2017 8:01:27 PM
An Introduction to Patent Cooperation Treaty Applications
12/26/2017 6:04:25 PM
CIONCA Sets Foot in San Francisco
1/2/2018 7:47:09 PM
The Lanham Act: Disparagement Provision Violates the First Amendment
CIONCA Team1/17/2018 8:12:06 PM
A Fork in the Road: Production or Protection?
CIONCA Team2/16/2018 4:07:48 PM
Fashion and Intellectual Property
3/8/2018 1:25:46 PM
Proceed with Caution: Consider Carefully when Narrowing Claims for Allowance
3/20/2018 12:50:05 PM
Andrei Iancu - New Director of the USPTO
CIONCA Staff4/13/2018 9:10:04 PM
It Take Two to Tango: Knowles v. Iancu, a Standing Dispute in a PTAB Decision
CIONCA Staff4/20/2018 5:25:25 PM
USPTO Changes Examination Procedure Pertaining to Subject Matter Eligibility in View of Berkheimer v. HP, Inc.
5/4/2018 7:37:51 PM
The Hague System for Protection of International Designs
CIONCA IP5/17/2018 9:54:58 PM
Marin Cionca Presents at OCIPLA May 2018 Luncheon
7/3/2018 7:44:33 PM
Impax Laboratories Inc. v Lannett Holdings Inc. on Claim Invalidation
Marin Cionca7/31/2018 6:50:05 PM
My patent expired? Can I still sue for patent infringement?
Staff8/16/2018 4:24:01 PM
Correcting or Changing a Patent After Issue Through the Central Reexamination Unit
Staff8/31/2018 7:26:58 PM
Patent Claim Interpretation By Federal Circuit's on Facebook's Contiguous Image Layout
CIONCA Team Member9/17/2018 4:33:20 PM
Trademarks and Likelihood of Confusion: Federal Circuit’s Decision in In re: Detroit Athletic Co.
Marin Cionca10/1/2018 7:42:12 PM
Can I Register a Color as a Trademark or Service Mark?
CIONCA Team Member10/16/2018 6:50:31 PM
A Double-Edged Sword: Benefit of Priority or Longer Patent Term
CIONCA Team Member11/19/2018 1:07:51 PM
The Appeals Process
Marin Cionca12/8/2018 8:35:06 PM
IP Assets - Procurement, Enforcement, Monetization
CIONCA Team Member12/18/2018 6:12:48 PM
Schlafly v. The Saint Louis Brewery: The Registration of Merely a Surname
CIONCA Team Member1/4/2019 4:12:21 PM
In re: Tropp: New Matter in a Continuation Can Be Relevant to Written Description Requirement
Marin Cionca, Esq.
Registered Patent Attorney
USPTO Reg. No. 63899
About our IP law firm: We are an Orange County, CA based boutique intellectual property firm with a focus on patent and trademark application, prosecution and opinion services, offering its IP services primarily at flat fee rates. We serve local OC clients, as well as clients throughout US and international clients.
We’d love to hear from you…we just need a little info
about your plans to take over the world!
P.S…Feel free to call us! (800)985-9198
Thank you for your message. We will respond within 24-72 hours. Thank you.