Recently, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sent a memo to the Examining Corps with information and instructions relating to the recent ruling in Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp. by the United States Court of Appeals by the Federal Circuit. In Enfish, the Federal Circuit ruled that the software patent claims at issue were not abstract and were patent eligible. This marked the first time in 18 months, since the Court’s ruling in DDR Holdings in December 2014, that the Federal Circuit has found software patent claims to be patent eligible.
The USPTO memo was authored by Robert Bahr, who is Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy. As you would expect, it accurately explains the importance of the Federal Circuit ruling in Enfish. Bahr tells examiners that, based on the Federal Circuit ruling, they “may determine that a claim directed to improvements in computer-related technology is not directed to an abstract idea under Step 2A of the subject matter eligibility examination guidelines (and is thus patent eligible), without the need to analyze the additional elements under Step 2B.” (emphasis in the original) Bahr goes on to tell examiners that a claim that is “directed to an improvement to computer-related technology (e.g., computer functionality) is likely not similar to claims that have been previously identified as abstract by the courts.”
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently declined to institute a CBM review of U.S. Patent No. 6,006,227, owned by Mirror World Technologies, LLC. See Apple, Inc. et al v. Mirror World Technologies, LLC. The decision is significant not only because the PTAB refused to institute a covered business method review, but because the panel — Administrative Patent Judges Thomas Giannetti, David McKone, and Barbara Parvis — cited the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Enfish v. Microsoft when they found that the challenged claims of the ‘227 patent were not abstract.
The Petitioners argued that the challenged claims are directed to an abstract idea that is not patent-eligible subject matter. According to the Petitioners, “the challenged claims of the ‘227 patent are directed to the abstract idea of organizing items of information, i.e., ‘data units,’ in chronological order.” The patent owner responded that the Petitioners’ view “entirely omits the core concept of the claimed invention: using a ‘main stream’ and ‘substreams.’”
Several weeks ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit shook up the patent world with a somewhat unexpected gift for patent owners, particularly patent owners and applicants seeking software patents. The Court issued an important decision on software patent eligibility in Enfish LLC v. Microsoft.
The opinion by Judge Hughes, who was joined by Judge Moore and Judge Taranto, doubles the total of Federal Circuit decisions where claims in a software patent were deemed to be patent eligible because they are not abstract. In other words, DDR Holdings is no longer the only point of hope for innovators and patent owners in the software space.
This case stared when Enfish sued Microsoft for patent infringement. The patents at issue were U.S. Patent No. 6,151,604 and U.S. Patent No. 6,163,775, both issued in late 2000 and both claiming priority to the same application filed in March 1995. The ’604 and ’775 patents are directed to an innovative logical model for a computer database. A logical model is a model of data for a computer database explaining how the various elements of information are related to one another. Contrary to conventional logical models, the patented logical model includes all data entities in a single table, with column definitions provided by rows in that same table. The patents describe this as the “self-referential” property of the database.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced the appointment of David P. Ruschke as the next Chief Judge for the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). Ruschke will begin his new role at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA, on May 23, 2016.
“The Patent Trial and Appeal Board plays a critical role in the patent ecosystem, especially since the launch of post-grant trials authorized in the America Invents Act of 2011,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee. “David’s breadth of experience in global patent opposition proceedings and his deep understanding of intellectual property positions him perfectly to lead our Board well into the future.”
“Director Lee has assembled a highly talented and hard-working team at the USPTO. I am excited to have the opportunity to join the talented judges and staff of the PTAB as we work together to serve America’s inventors,” said Ruschke.
On April 1, 2016, the United States Patent and Trademark Office published final rules in the Federal Register that relate to post grant proceedings. These new final rules went into effect on May 2, 2016, and amend the existing PTAB trial practice rules pertaining to inter partes review (IPR), post grant review (PGR), covered business method (CBM) review, and derivation proceedings brought into being by provisions of the America Invents Act (AIA).
In a nutshell, these new rules change existing practice by allowing new testimonial evidence to be submitted with a patent owner’s preliminary response, adding a Rule 11-type certification for papers filed in a proceeding, allowing a claim construction approach that emulates the approach used by a district court following Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) for claims of patents that will expire before entry of a final written decision, and replacing the current page limit with a word count limit for major briefing. These final rules are the culmination of a process started two years ago. For more information on the changes taking effect, please see Patent Office amends PTAB Trial Practice Rules.
Many had hoped that the Office would make it easier for patent owners to successfully amend patent claims in post grant proceedings, but the Office stood firm.