has over 40 years of practice as a patent attorney, is registered to practice before the UK and European patent offices, the UK and European trademark offices and to conduct proceedings for infringement of intellectual property rights before the UK courts. He received an MA in chemistry from Oxford University and an LLM from Nottingham Trent University, and has worked as a patent attorney in both industry and in private practice, becoming a partner in Lucas & Co in 1999.
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The arrival of a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) office action citing no less than six earlier patents directed to various sub-combinations in the features of the main independent claim in an application which I was handling prompted the present note. Readers may recall the decision of Judge Rich In re Winslow 365 F.2d 1017 (C.C.P.A. 1966): “We think the proper way to apply the 103-obviousness test to a case like this is to first picture the inventor as working in his shop with the prior art references — which he is presumed to know — hanging on the walls around him.” However, Boltzmann’s entropy formula S = k log W where S represents entropy, a concept associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty, and W represents the number of possible states in the relevant system, leaves an unforgettable impression on those who have studied it. Even if the fields from which the earlier patents might be selected are restricted to relevant general classifications, the number of combinations of six references which might have been collected together from the body of prior art in the relevant technical field randomly and without knowledge of the invention is mind-boggling.
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.
The presently pending petition for en banc review in Athena Diagnostics, Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Servs., LLC has been addressed by Sherry Knowles and Meredith Addy and is supported by a number of amicus briefs. The patent in issue has been described by the present author as a paradigm of patent eligibility, supporting the argument that en banc review is merited. Mayo has now filed its response brief, submitted on May 7, and argues that the panel’s decision invalidating the asserted claims as ineligible properly applied the two-step Alice framework in light of precedent, that the full Court need not re-examine it, and accordingly, that Appellants’ petition should be denied.
In Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc., 788 F.3d 1371, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2015) the Federal Circuit belittled pioneering work at Oxford University, indisputably one of the world’s leading research institutions. In the Athena Diagnostics v. Mayo Collaborative Services decision handed down early in 2019, the Federal Circuit surpassed itself by belittling pioneering work representing the combined efforts of Oxford University and the Max-Plank Gesellschaft, two of the world’s leading research institutions. A petition for en banc review has been filed and is supported by amicus briefs. This article further supports the need for review, emphasizing inadequate attention paid to the positive eligibility provisions of 35 USC 101, conflict with Diamond v Diehr, an inadmissible extension of admissions within the patent description regarding a genus of techniques to cover a previously undisclosed species of techniques within the genus, and the need to give equal treatment to those who make pioneering inventions or discoveries and those whose inventions or discoveries are incremental.
The view of the USPTO now is that a claim to purified amazonic acid is not patent-eligible because there is no structural difference between the purified acid in the claim and the acid in the leaves, and the claim does not include features that demonstrate that the recited product is markedly different from what exists in nature. … It is, to say the least, unclear why the USPTO, without public consultation seeks to remove the patent-eligibility of isolated or purified natural products of new medical or other utility, which has been taken as a given in the US for 100 years and is consistent with practice in Europe and other major industrialised countries.
It is arguable that neither view is beyond criticism and that any emergent legal test as to patent-eligibility demands further development. There is much to commend the majority view that each of §§101, 102, 103 and 112 serves a different purpose and presents different questions and that under §101 only when it is apparent that the claimed subject-matter is a manifestly ineligible abstract idea should that subject-matter be excluded. Significant involvement of a computer in the working of the invention points towards invention.
The good news is that signal claims and broad claims to computer program products are obtainable in Europe. However, such claims are only grantable if the necessary language is present in the European application or the International application as filed, otherwise objection will arise under a.123(2) EPC. Further, the EPO rules on priority are strict, and if the necessary language is missing from the US provisional or utility application from which priority is claimed, then signal or unrestricted computer program product claims will not benefit from priority. It is at the time of US filing that the necessary language must be introduced, and in particular entry into the European regional phase is too late.
The EPO applies what might be referred to as a “subtraction” test for claims containing a mixture of patent-eligible and patent-ineligible features, those features that are patent-ineligible being disregarded and novelty and obviousness under aa. 54 and 56 EPC being evaluated on the basis of the remaining features. Judge Lourie suggested a somewhat similar “subtraction” test here.