Inventive concept in Mayo
In Mayo v. Prometheus, the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that eligibility for patent protection is determined by analyzing the “inventive concept” being claimed. In its analysis, the court whittled out the prior art from the claims until the “inventive concept” remained.
“As a whole” analysis in CLS Bank
In CLS Bank v. Alice, the Federal Circuit held that the “inventive concept” of an idea is based on the claims as a whole. No whittling allowed. The dissenting opinion in CLS Bank indicated that by taking the claim as a whole for the patent eligibility analysis, the Federal Circuit did not follow the opinion of Mayo.
“As a whole” analysis less likely to lead to invalidated patents
By analyzing the claims as a whole, the Federal Circuit made it more difficult to invalidate a patent for being ineligible for patent protection. The Federal Circuit further lowered the bar so that more inventions are eligible for patent protection by stating in CLS Bank that:
“this court holds that when—after taking all of the claim recitations into consideration—it is not manifestly evident that a claim is directed to a patent ineligible abstract idea, that claim must not be deemed for that reason to be inadequate under § 101.” (emphasis added).
Unless the single most reasonable understanding is that a claim is directed to nothing more than a fundamental truth or disembodied concept, with no limitations in the claim attaching that idea to a specific application, it is inappropriate to hold that the claim is directed to a patent ineligible “abstract idea” under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
By forcing the district court to analyze the claim as a whole and requiring the claim to be manifestly evident that it is directed to an ineligible abstract idea, the Federal Circuit appears to be sending a signal that it prefers not to invalidate a patent based on its subject matter.
Although the CLS Bank and Mayo appear to be in conflict with each other as mentioned by the dissenting opinion, the Federal Circuit seems to be making a distinction in that CLS Bank determines whether a claimed invention is directed to abstract idea, whereas, the Supreme Court’s decision in Mayo decides whether a claimed invention directed to an abstract idea is still, nonetheless, eligible for patent protection.
Effects of CLS Bank
CLS Bank appears to be enlarging the scope of eligible subject matter for patent protection. At least, this is the way it seems from the language of the case. However, we must wait to see how the district courts interpret CLS Bank and Mayo and how subsequent panel members of the Federal Circuit apply the law stated in CLS Bank and Mayo.
Patent drafting strategies
In drafting patent applications, it is important to realize the differences in CLS Bank and Mayo. Moreover, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) also adds a level of complexity since they will promulgate examination guidelines on how to implement the rules based on these and subsequent cases. These USPTO rules do not have the effect of a rule of law but as practitioners, these are the rules that we must adhere to unless you plan to go through a costly appeal through the court system.
The USPTO has also promulgated interim guidelines in response to Prometheus and Bilski, the other seminal cases dealing with the issue of patent eligible subject matter. See, 2012 Interim Procedure for Subject Matter Eligibility Analysis of Process Claims Involving Law of Nature and Interim Guidance for Determining Subject Matter Eligibility for Process Claims in View of Bilski v. Kappos. One should also read these interim guidelines.
For patent practitioners, the issue raised by CLS Bank and Mayo affect patent prosecution strategies. In my opinion, it is best to take a layered approach. The patent application should attempt to satisfy the rules promulgated by the Patent Office and Mayo. As for the Federal Circuit’s opinion in CLS Bank, the majority is casting a broad net so as to make as many inventions eligible for patent protection, and thus, minimize issues related to eligibility of patent protection.
(See comment below for my reasoning as to why the S.Ct. in Mayo was deciding when an abstract idea or law of nature can be eligible for patent protection, whereas, the Fed. Cir. in CLS Bank was deciding whether a claim is directed to an abstract idea. September 12, 2012, James Yang)
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