Earlier this year the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Alice Corp. v CLS Bank Int’l, which applied the Mayo 2-part test to computer-implemented subject matter. The 2-part test asks: (1) whether the claims at issue are directed to patent-ineligible concepts; and (2) if yes, is there something “significantly more” in the claim to ensure that the claim is not…
The judge made exception to §101 for laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas exists because a patent on these would impede innovation more than promote it, contrary to the primary objective of patent law. As the Supreme Court emphasized, we must distinguish between claims to the building blocks of human ingenuity versus those that integrate the building blocks into something more. The former would risk pre-empting or disproportionately tying up the use of the underlying ideas – to the detriment of progress in the useful arts. Basically, the purpose of the Mayo test is to ensure that patent law not inhibit further discovery by preempting or improperly tying up the future use of building blocks of human ingenuity.
Since the Alice Corp. decision, rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101 have become substantially more common in business-method art units, and notices of allowance have become substantially more rare in these art units. Meanwhile, 101 rejections made even pre-Alice were amongst the poorest quality for business-method art units as compared to those from other computer-oriented art units. Thus, it appears as though the patent prospects for applications assigned to business-method art units are grim. Given that the United States has traditionally been a leader in software and that software applications are frequently assigned to business-method art units, it seems unfortunate that the patent office is so unwilling to grant protection to innovation in this area.
The patent examiner stated that, when he had tried to allow the patent application, the USPTO system returned a thread – “SAWS case – cannot be allowed.” The application was indeed rejected… The USPTO explained that our counsel’s law firm (a respected IP law firm) had never heard of the Sensitive Application Warning System (SAWS) because the firm, and indeed the public at large, is not supposed to know of this policy. The Office explained that the Sensitive Application Warning System is an internal USPTO policy, that the policy has nothing to do with the public, and that Gofigure was not supposed to have been informed about its designation in this internal USPTO program.
The problem with this analytical approach lies not in the two-step Mayo “algorithm,” but rather in framing the analysis in terms of subject matter eligibility under Section 101 rather than patentability under 103. Section 101 is intended to deal with the eligibility of the claimed subject matter for patent protection as a class (i.e., genus or sub-genus) of inventions, rather than the contribution of the particular invention (i.e., species) defined by the claim vis-a-vis the prior art. So why did the Supreme Court frame the inquiry in terms of patent-eligible subject matter, rather than proceeding directly to the question of obviousness?
Not such a long time ago, owning a US patent was worth something! A patent was often the foundation for new and exciting startups, as well as a source of pride –and hopefully profits- for inventors. These assets promised competitive and strategic advantage in the market; conduits to new investment and deterrence to free riders… If the current trend is not soon reversed, others countries will become flagships for patent protection and the US might very well become the new China; an environment where innovation is no longer rewarded and where it pays more to follow than to lead. This would be a very sad and totally self inflicted demise “Made in America.”
While trade secrets cannot fully replace patent protection in all respects, they do offer a viable alternative to patents for protecting intellectual property in some cases. In addition, while the value of patents in protecting IP has been under attack this year, trade secret protection has been on the rise with, for example, the California appellate court decision in Altavion, Inc. v. Konica Minolta Systems Laboratory, 226 Cal.App.4th 26. 171 Cal.Rptr.3d 714 (1st Dist. 2014) that broadened the definition of what information can qualify as a trade secret. Moreover, there is a real possibility that Congress will finally pass a civil trade secrets protection law, which will mean that trade secrets will not be considered patent’s ugly step sister any longer.
Every once and a while we get a clear example of the gulf between those battling over important public policy issues and can understand why the public and policy makers are confused by resulting charges and counter charges. The Tuft’s study estimates that the costs of drug development have doubled from $802 million in their 2001 study to $2.6 billion today… After summarizing the Tuft’s findings, the Post invited longtime critic Jamie Love to comment. Love, who unsuccessfully petitioned the National Institutes of Health to regulate prices for any drug developed from federal funding said: “First impression: the study, which is part of a public relations campaign by the drug companies to justify high prices, is long on propaganda, and short of details.”
In the latest decision (“Ultramercial-3”), the panel reached the opposite conclusion and affirmed the dismissal. This apparent turnaround was based on two intervening events: (1) the Supreme Court’s Alice decision in June; and (2) the fact that Chief Judge Rader was no longer on the court, and his place on the panel was taken by Judge Mayer. Much has, and will be, written about the first of these factors, so I would like to focus on the second, and in particular, the diametrically opposed views of Judges Rader and Mayer on a very important procedural issue; namely, whether the lack of patent-eligible subject matter should be a basis for dismissing a case at the outset based only on the “intrinsic” evidence, i.e., the patent itself and its prosecution history in the USPTO, without any discovery, expert testimony and/or claim construction.
The Australian Full Federal Court recently handed down its decision in Research Affiliates LLC v Commissioner of Patents. The decision is an important addition to Australian case law concerning the patentability of business methods and software. Judges Kenny, Bennett, and Nicholas ruled that the Appellant’s claimed computer implemented method for generating an index for use in securities trading was unpatentable as an abstract idea. The Court held that “[t]he claimed method in this case clearly involves what may well be an inventive idea, but it is an abstract idea. The specification makes it apparent that any inventive step arises in the creation of the index as information and as a scheme. There is no suggestion in the specification or the claims that any part of the inventive step lies in the computer implementation.
Most patent owners and users cannot bear the costs or risks associated with enforcing and licensing their patents. The potential cost of this waste to the American economy has been estimated to be as large as $1 trillion annually, representing a five percent reduction in potential GDP… using conservative assumptions of the impact on the economy of increased innovation, could generate social benefits ranging between $100 and $200 billion per year. This estimated range easily could be surpassed if the U.S. can achieve enhanced licensing of existing patents, and if any market solutions also enable the dissemination of more knowledge that could increase the numbers of patented innovations themselves.
The most recent patent reform bill to pass the House, which is now expected to receive Senate backing as well, is the Goodlatte Innovation Act (H.R. 3309). Included within the various provisions of H.R. 3309 is the presumption of fee shifting for the losing party in a patent case. Put simply, this means the loser in a patent case pays the winning side’s attorney fees. In the context of a patent case, such costs often total in the millions. But as someone who operates at the center of the patent market, and is certainly sympathetic to the dangers of frivolous patent litigation, I can only hope that if additional patent reform does pass, the presumptive fee shifting provisions are nowhere to be seen. Although seen by those unfamiliar with the nuances of patents as a way to curtail abuses in the patent system, a presumptive fee shifting provision is not only unnecessary, but also likely to cause of host of unintended consequences.
Holding a provisional patent application pending, but failing to file a nonprovisional patent application by the one year deadline, means you lose the right to that filing date, and could potentially lose ownership rights to the invention. This outcome is fine if you have done your research and determined that the invention cannot support a viable business. It’s not fine if you haven’t completed all of your research prior to the deadline. Unfortunately extensions are not possible.
Nothing clarified the stakes in orphan drug development like hearing Ron Bartek describe how after 16 years a promising treatment for his son’s disease finally emerged with TRND’s help. The therapy demonstrated enough potential that it was licensed by a small company which took it through Phase I and II trials. Both showed very promising results. Ron choked up describing how he felt after such a long struggle to help his child and finally seeing a real glimpse of hope. Everyone in the room shared the lump in his throat. A day like that reminds you why tech transfer and intellectual property are so important. When used correctly they improve and protect lives all around the world.
One of the big reasons there is such a need for software forensics is to interject objectivity into what is otherwise a battle of experts who are supposed to be unbiased but who may be strongly influenced by, if not outright pressured to support, the positions of their clients. This is just as true of experts in other areas of litigation, but as more complex technologies are at issue in today’s IP cases, lay judges and juries are less capable of weeding through technical intricacies to weigh opposing views of experts. Compounding this reality is the ever increasing popularity of police dramas on television, which elevate the desire for juries to have some kind of objective information they can rely on; something of a smoking gun if you will. Software forensics can often provide that smoking gun and cut through the haze. But the question remains, how do we assure that software forensic tools are reliable and consistent and that the expert witnesses who use them are qualified and honest about their analyses?