Eli Mazour Harrity Team

Why the Revised 101 Guidance Continues to be Important After Cleveland Clinic

By Eli Mazour

After the 2014 Supreme Court Alice decision, the judges of the Federal Circuit failed to reach a meaningful consensus regarding how the subject matter eligibility test set out in Alice should be applied.  As a result, new USPTO Director Andrei Iancu recognized that there was no practical way for examiners to navigate all of the patent eligibility decisions for each individual patent application.  To address this problem, the USPTO released the “2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance.”

In the recent Cleveland Clinic Foundation v. True Health Diagnostics decision, a panel of the Federal Circuit invalidated claims related to cardiovascular testing under § 101 and stated that “[w]hile we greatly respect the PTO’s expertise on all matters relating to patentability, including patent eligibility, we are not bound by its guidance” (Fed. Cir. 2019).  The decision caused consternation among some practitioners regarding the value of relying on USPTO guidance.

Director Iancu’s comments regarding Cleveland Clinic

This past Thursday, at the ABA’s annual IP conference, Iancu addressed those concerns.  First, he pointed out that Cleveland Clinic did not even mention the 2019 revised guidance.  Instead, Cleveland Clinic discussed Example 29 from guidance that was published by the PTO on May 4, 2016, which is almost two years before Iancu became the director.  Second, Iancu noted that Cleveland Clinic just stated that to the extent that Example 29 contradicts a court decision, the court decision controls.  In other words, Cleveland Clinic pointed out facts that were clear before the 2019 revised guidance was even released: 1) courts are not bound by guidance released by the USPTO and 2) incorrect guidance released by the USPTO would not override previous court decisions.  Cleveland Clinic did not in any way directly undermine the 2019 revised guidance.

Moreover, Iancu indicated a change in approach by the USPTO: instead of reacting to each new Federal Circuit decision that deals with § 101, the USPTO is now taking a look at the § 101 issue holistically.  And, Iancu argued that the Federal Circuit should address the § 101 problem through en banc decisions by the full Federal Circuit.  In totality, this suggests that a single Federal Circuit decision by a panel of three judges is unlikely to significantly change the USPTO’s approach set out by the 2019 revised guidance.

Practical tips for drafting & prosecution

As it stands now, USPTO examiners and PTAB judges are expected to apply the 2019 revised guidance for § 101 analysis.  In fact, ex parte appeal decisions that deal with § 101 are currently being reviewed at the PTAB to make sure that the 2019 revised guidance is being applied by PTAB judges.  Therefore, in order to ensure efficient prosecution and positive appeal results, practitioners should primarily rely on the 2019 revised guidance to overcome § 101 rejections.

However, when drafting new patent applications, practitioners should plan for the possibility of the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court, or even possibly Congress taking a narrower view of patent eligibility.  Therefore, to the extent possible, patent applications should be drafted with all of the relevant court decisions in mind.  The goal should be for an eventual patent to be able to withstand – or even better yet avoid – the most stringent § 101 scrutiny during litigation.

Aaron Cooper – Clause 8 – Episode 8

Check out the new Clause 8 interview about the passage of the American Invents Act (AIA) and how to effectively influence IP policy. Eli Mazour talks to Aaron Cooper, who served as Chief IP Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now head of global policy at BSA | The Software Alliance.

Full Clause 8 interview available here https://www.clause8.tv/ or via your favorite podcast app.

Harrity Blog

In-depth Summary of USPTO Revised Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility

By Tim Hirzel

The PTO released their highly anticipated revised guidance on subject matter eligibility that take effect on January 7, 2019.[1]  Below, we discuss the changes to the subject matter eligibility analysis made by the revised guidance and how Applicants may address these changes in practice.

Summary of Revised Guidance

The revised guidance maintains the two step Alice/Mayo Test but revises the procedure for determining whether a claim is directed to a judicial exception (e.g., an abstract idea) under Step 2A.  Previously, the PTO guidelines (wrongly) equated a claim merely “reciting” an abstract idea with a claim being “directed to” the abstract idea under Step 2A.  The PTO has replaced this approach with a new two prong analysis.

In the first prong of Step 2A, Examiners evaluate whether a claim recites an abstract idea.  The first prong is similar to the previous approach with one important change.  Previously, Examiners were to describe the subject matter claimed and identify whether the subject matter had previously been found to be directed to an abstract idea by the courts.  The PTO found this approach impractical due to the ever-increasing number of court decisions and rightly noted that it has been difficult for Examiners to apply this approach in a predictable manner, especially between different technology centers.

Instead of this case law specific approach, the PTO newly identified three groups of abstract ideas: mathematical concepts, certain methods of organizing human activity, and mental processes.  Examiners must now a) identify specific limitations in the claims believed to be an abstract idea, and b) determine whether the identified limitations fall within any of the three newly identified groups.  If the identified limitations fall within the three groups of abstract ideas, the analysis proceeds to the second prong of Step 2A.

In the second prong of Step 2A, Examiners evaluate whether the claim as a whole integrates the abstract idea into a practical application.  The million-dollar question then becomes what is a practical application?  The PTO broadly answers this question by stating “[a] claim that integrates a judicial exception into a practical application will apply, rely on, or use the judicial exception in a manner that imposes a meaningful limit on the judicial exception.”  The PTO also gives several examples based on case law that indicate an additional element or combination of elements may have integrated an exception into a practical application, such as: improving the functioning of a computer or a technical field, effecting a treatment for a medical condition, using the judicial exception with a particular machine, or transforming or reducing a particular article to a different state or thing.

The PTO acknowledges that these examples and the second prong of step 2A overlap considerations that the courts and the PTO’s guidance consider under Step 2B but feels that this new approach will increase certainty and reliability.  For clarity, the PTO reiterated that merely using a computer as a tool to perform the abstract idea, adding insignificant extra-solution activity, or generally linking the abstract idea to a technical field will still not be enough to establish a practical application and patent eligibility.  If the claim does not integrate the abstract idea into a practical application, then the claim is directed to an abstract idea under Step 2A and the analysis proceeds to Step 2B.

Step 2B has not been changed under the revised guidance and Examiners are still to evaluate whether the claims provide an inventive concept by reciting significantly more than the abstract idea.  However, the incorporation of several Step 2B considerations into the second prong of Step 2A limits how much additional analysis the Examiner needs to apply in Step 2B.  Importantly, whether the additional elements are well-understood, routine, conventional activity is not evaluated under the second prong of Step 2A and is unrelated to whether the claim integrates the abstract idea into a practical application.  This evaluation is still done in Step 2B pursuant to the Berkheimer memo[2] to determine whether the additional element or combination of elements adds limitations that are not well-understood, routine, conventional activity in the field which is indicative that an inventive concept may be present.

Our Impressions

The new two prong approach to Step 2A should make it easier to work with Examiners, especially during interviews, to overcome 101 rejections.  Under the prior guidance, Examiners would often dismiss any Step 2A arguments because their guidelines simply said a claim was directed to an abstract idea if any part of the claim recited an abstract idea.  This made it very easy for Examiners to establish the claims were directed to an abstract idea without much analysis.  The revised guidelines will make it much more difficult for the Examiner to simply dismiss an Applicant’s Step 2A arguments.

Equally as frustrating was Examiners misapplying case law when attempting to identify a decision that found subject matter, similar to the claims, to be directed to an abstract idea.  Applicants should be able to avoid the necessity of debating case law cited by Examiners (which was rarely an effective manner of overcoming a 101 rejection anyway) because the Examiners are not required to cite specific decisions in their rejections anymore and merely must identify one of the three newly defined groups of abstract ideas.

Instead, Applicants can now focus on the newly articulated “practical application” consideration in the second prong of Step 2A.  While the examples of practical applications given in the revised guidelines are nothing new and come straight from case law Applicants should have already been using to overcome 101 rejections, the examples were not always given much weight by the Examiners or simply dismissed nominally in Step 2B.  The revised guidelines’ focus on the “practical application” consideration and the given examples may make it easier to use these examples to effectively overcome the 101 rejections (without necessarily having to argue the case law behind the examples).

Moreover, the PTO broadly describing the case law as establishing a “practical application” consideration gives Applicants more leeway than relying on specific court decisions as done in the past.  For example, it may be easier to convince an Examiner on a technical level that claims “apply, rely on, or use the judicial exception” in a meaningful manner than to convince the Examiner that claims are similar to subject matter previously held by the courts to be directed to statutory subject matter.  However, Applicants must be mindful that the goal is not simply to get patent applications allowed by satisfying the PTO’s revised guidelines, but to have claims that are statutory as supported by case law and that can withstand the 101 analysis performed by the courts.

Any noticeable change in examination will depend heavily on how Examiners are trained to implement the new guidance.  Accordingly, it may be months before we fully realize how significant the changes will be to 101 rejections in practice.

[1] 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance

[2] Revising 101 Eligibility Procedure in view of Berkheimer v. HP, Inc.

For a shorter summary of the above, visit here.

Tariq Hafiz – Clause 8 – Episode 7

A must-listen episode of Clause 8 for anyone interested in patent prosecution.  Eli Mazour talks to Tariq Hafiz – USPTO Director of Technology Center 3600 Business Methods – about his career at the USPTO, soon to be released 101 guidance, overlooked strategies for effectively dealing with examiners and their Supervisors, and many other subjects. 

Full Clause 8 interview available here https://www.clause8.tv/ or via your favorite podcast app.

Harrity Blog

Analysis of December 2016 USPTO Subject Matter Eligibility Examples

By Kris Rhu & Paul Gurzo

On December 15, 2016, the USPTO published three subject matter eligibility examples focusing on business method claims, which can be found here.  The purpose of these examples is to give guidance on how claims should be analyzed using the 2014 Interim Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility, recent Supreme Court and Federal Circuit decisions, and recent Memorandums published by the USPTO.  These examples seem to indicate that the power of §101 to restrict patentability has been whittled down since Alice and that the USPTO would like to reduce the number of §101 rejections for technological claims in light of court decisions post-Alice.  Below, we describe each example provided by the USPTO, explain the USPTO guidance for each example, and provide practical practice tips that practitioners can use to help reduce or overcome §101 rejections.


Alice in Wonderland falling surrounded by playing cards

Alice on Dulany Street: How the PTAB Handles 101 in Ex Parte Appeals

By Eli Mazour & James Bennin

“The outlook has become only more grim for appellants who are hoping that the PTAB will overturn a § 101 rejection.”

Previously, we analyzed ex parte appeal decisions by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) from the year following the Alice v. CLS Bank decision. At the time, we concluded that the PTAB is unlikely to reverse § 101 rejections based on Alice. We decided to revisit this conclusion based on ex parte appeal decisions from December 2016.


IPO Education Foundation Girl Scout IP Patch Event

May 7, 2016 – Harrity & Harrity had a wonderful time hosting
a booth at the IPO Education Foundation Girl Scout IP Patch Event at the United States Patent & Trademark Office. The patch curriculum was developed jointly by IPO Education Foundation (IPOEF), U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and Girl Scout Counsel of the Nation’s Capital (GSCNC). Patches were presented by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee at a ceremony at the Langdon Education Campus.

Watch the video below to highlights of this great event!