Some Thoughts on Patentability
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos
The recent Federal Circuit decision CLS Bank International v. Alice Corporation raises some important points that offer insight on advancing prosecution of patent applications. In CLS Bank, the claims to a computer-implemented invention were found to fall within an eligible category of invention and not to mere abstract ideas. In answering the question of eligibility under § 101, I found it interesting that the court looked at the different roles of the various statutory provisions, § 101, 102, 103, and 112. Sections 102, 103 and 112 do the substantive work of disqualifying those patent eligible inventions that are “not worthy of a patent”, while § 101 is a general statement of the type of subject matter eligible for patenting. The court notes that, while § 101 has been characterized as a threshold test and certainly can be addressed before other matters touching on patent validity, it need not always be addressed first, particularly when other sections might be discerned by a trial judge as having the promise to resolve a dispute more expeditiously or with more clarity or predictability. The court in CLS Bank also recognized that the exceptions to eligibility—laws of nature, natural phenomenon, and abstract ideas—should arise infrequently.
Based on my experience, I appreciate the wisdom of the court’s discussion relating to resolving disputed claims by focusing initially on patentability requirements of § 102, 103, and 112, rather than § 101. I have found that when claims are refined to distinguish over the prior art, recite definite boundaries, and be fully enabled based on a complete written description, they do not usually encounter issues of eligibility based on reciting mere abstract ideas or broad fundamental concepts. Put another way, every business looks for opportunities to sequence workflow so that the first issues addressed are the ones that can simplify or completely resolve other issues. This is good basic management for businesses, and for patent offices.
While courts can resolve patent disputes in the most expeditious manner given the facts of the case, the Office has the unique duty of ensuring that all patentability requirements are met before issuing a patent. Applications that are presented in the best possible condition for examination with clear and definite claims that are believed to distinguish over the prior art and are supported by a robust disclosure will most likely not encounter rejections based on eligibility. Avoiding issues under § 101 can have a very positive effect on pendency and help examiners focus on finding the closest prior art, leading to strong patent protection. Hopefully, the guidance supplied by the Federal Circuit in CLS Bank can help us as we continue to work on reducing pendency and enhancing quality of issued patents.