Tuesday, September 20, 2016

PTAB reverses 103 when secondary reference feature would not provide benefit if incorporated into primary reference

Takeaway: The Examiner rejected claims to a citrus reamer as obvious over a combination of three references, with two references disclosing the claimed features and a third providing a reason to combine. The Applicant successfully argued the the Examiner's reason to combine wasn't rational, by providing a technical explanation of why the feature from the second reference wouldn't work in the primary reference. The Board agreed and reversed. (Ex parte Hensel, PTAB 2016.)

Details:
Ex parte Hensel
Appeal 2014-006258; Appl. No. 13/306,946; Tech. Center 3700
Decided:  June 9, 2016

The application was directed to an electric citrus reamer. The only independent claim on appeal read:
     15. A citrus press device with a motor for rotating a citrus reamer comprising:
     ...
     a fruit dome that cooperates with the reamer;
     the reamer having primary ribs,
     each rib having an apex, the apex comprising an elevated projection;
     the elevated projections spaced from and surrounding a central pin that acts as a spacer between the reamer and the dome.
The Examiner rejected the claim as obvious using a combination of three reference. The Examiner found that the primary reference De Zarate (a utility patent) disclosed all limitations except for the projections. For that feature, the Examiner turned to the secondary reference Reinicke (a design patent). The Examiner proposed using Reinecke’s ribs in De Zarate’s reamer 25 so that the De Zarate’s protuberance 26 (mapped to the claimed "central pin") was "surrounded by ribs and was at a higher elevation than the ribs.” For a reason to combine, the Examiner turned to a teaching in the third reference Jakovicz (also a utility patent)   "... portions formed to grip the fruit section [would] prevent undue slipping during use of the device."

The Applicant made two arguments on appeal. One, the combination of the primary and secondary references did not suggest the claimed cooperation between ribs and central pin. Two,  the third reference did not provide a motivation to combine the first two references.

More specifically, the Applicant argued that the primary reference De Zarate taught a central pin but no ribs, while the secondary reference Reinicke taught ribs but no pin. In combining the two, the Examiner did not account for the claim language which required the projection at the apex of each rib to be spaced apart from the central pin, and also required these projections to surround the central pin. According to the Applicant, the Examiner had improperly isolated the pin and rib features and did not consider the claim as a whole.
Reinicke's ribs
De Zanate's reamer
The Applicant also traversed the Examiner's rationale for combining, by arguing that the advantage described in Jakovicz – prevention of undue slipping during use of reamer – didn't make sense when applied to De Zanate's reamer. De Zarate’s device extracted juice from a fruit section by pressing the fruit section between dome (33) and rotating reamer (25), whereas Jakovicz disclosed a fruit press juicer, which did not suggest inclusion of a rotating reamer. Based on this difference in operation, Jakovicz’s teaching of “rib-like parts being formed to grip the cut edge of the fruit section and prevent undue slipping thereof” was not a rational basis for modifying De Zarate’s reamer 25 to include the claimed ribs, since the principle of reamer 25 requires rotation relative to the fruit. The Applicant concluded this portion of the argument by framing the issue as "no reasonable expectation of success," and noting that "Reinecke is a design patent that provides little or no teaching in regards to any operation of the reamer" (emphasis added).

The Board reversed, finding that the Examiner's rationale for modifying De Zarate’s reamer to include ribs was not rational. The Board agreed that Reinecke extracted juice by relative rotation between the ribbed mound and the fruit section. This involved some slippage between the ribbed mound and the fruit section, so preventing slippage wasn't a reason to incorporate this feature into De Zarate’s. The Board then dug deeper into the teaching in  Jakovicz cited by the Examiner cited as a reason for using ribs – and found that this teaching applied to Jakovicz’s annular ribs, not radial ribs (as claimed).
It is not clear how the structure of Jakovicz’s annular ribs 24 would lead a person of ordinary skill in the art to modify De Zarate’s rotating reamer 25 to include Reinecke’s radial ribs to prevent undue slipping between reamer 25 and fruit during use. Jakovicz’s annular ribs 24 grip the outer edges of the fruit section as plunger 27 presses the fruit section into member 20, thereby providing a complete expressing of juice from the fruit section. That is a markedly different juicing operation than De Zarate’s rotating of reamer 25 within the fruit section, as the fruit section is pressed on to reamer 25 by cap 33. Due to the differences in structure and function between De Zarate and Jakovicz we determine the Examiner errs in determining it would have been obvious to modify De Zarate’s rotating reamer 25 to include Reinecke’s ribs, in light of Jakovicz, to prevent undue slipping between reamer and fruit during use of De Zarate’s device.
(Emphasis added, internal citations omitted.)

My two cents: This case caught my eye because the Examiner used a third reference only for a rationale for combining. Theoretically possible, I suppose, to find one reference teaching a feature (here, Reinecke’s ribs) but not an advantage, and another reference (Jakovicz) that taught an advantage for the feature. And of course Reinicke couldn't discuss any advantages or benefits, since it was a design patent, so the Examiner had to turn to a third reference.

But wait ... if the reference teaching the advantage of the claimed feature (Jakovicz) also taught the claimed feature, why use the intermediate reference (Reinicke) at all?

Maybe because the reference-with-advantage doesn't teach all the claimed structure. That's what got the Examiner into trouble here. Jakovicz’s statement about the advantage of ribs applied to annular ribs, not radial ribs as claimed (and as allegedly disclosed in Renicke). I think the Examiner's rationale was irrational for this reason alone.

The Applicant didn't dig that deeply into Jakovicz (and shouldn't have to), and instead focused more on why the combination of ribs and reamer wouldn't work. I might have framed this more narrowly as "change to principle of operation" rather than more general "motivation isn't rational." But the important thing is the technical explanation about why the combination didn't make sense, and kudos to the Applicant for focusing on that. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

PTAB reverses § 103 when secondary reference teaches image processing during capture where claim requires post-capture processing

Takeaway: The Examiner rejected claims to user-initiated post-capture zoom processing of facial images as obvious over zoom processing taught by a primary reference in view of user-initiated zoom during image capture. The Applicant appealed, arguing that the secondary reference relied on by the Examiner taught zoom before capture while the claims required zooming in a digital image that was already in existence. The Board agreed with the Applicant and reversed: "[the secondary reference] zooming by half-pressing a shutter button occurs before capture of an image with its 'image taking device,' whereas the claims are directed to post-capture processing of images with a computer system. (Ex parte Bhatt, PTAB 2016.)

Details:
Ex parte Bhatt
Appeal 2014-009532, Appl. No. 13/182,409, Tech. Center 2600
Decided:  June 13, 2016

The application on appeal was directed to image processing, and more specifically, to presenting zoomed views of multiple faces. Each particular zoom level maximizes the fraction of the image occupied by the face. As explained in the application:
... it would be desirable to present zoomed views of multiple human faces depicted in the images 350-A, 350-B, 350-C and 350-D to allow a user associated with the system 300 to determine one or more faces from among the multiple faces are in focus or otherwise desirable and the image(s) from among the images 350-A, 350-B, 350-C and 350-D corresponding to the determined faces. To this effect, the GUI 302 can also include a control 320 through which the user can request that the system 300 concurrently zooms to portions of the multiple images 350-A, 350-B, 350-C and 350-D depicting faces of several persons.
 ... Upon receiving user input via the arrows of the control 320, the system 300 can switch, based on a display index/order associated with an anchor image, from concurrently presenting zoomed views associated with the detected instances of a person's face to concurrently presenting zoomed views associated with the detected instances of another person's face.
A representative claim on appeal read:
     1. A method performed by one or more processes executing on a computer system, the method comprising:
     presenting, on a user interface viewable on a display coupled to the computer system, one or more digital images;
      receiving user input requesting to zoom to faces depicted in the one or more digital images, where the faces include either human faces or animal faces; and
     in response to receiving the user input and for each of the one or more digital images, automatically presenting on the user interface a zoomed view of the digital image
     that displays an enlarged representation of a portion of the digital image showing an instance of a face depicted in the displayed portion of the digital image,
     the zoomed view of the digital image covering an [entire] area of the user interface configured to present the one or more digital images,
      the zoomed view being presented at a zoom-level that is selected to maximize a fraction of the displayed portion of the digital image occupied by the face.
The Examiner rejected the independent claims as obvious. According to the Examiner, the primary reference Shiritani taught most of the zoom limitations. In discussing the feature "zoom level selected to maximize a fraction ... occupied by the face," the Examiner relied on Shiritani's teaching "... in the case of an upright full-length figure image or the like, because the face area is small, the user has to observe the face area by enlarging the full-length figure image to be full-screen."

The Examiner acknowledged that the primary reference did not teach zooming on multiple faces in response to user input, or doing so automatically. The Examiner turned to Nose for the zoom-in-response-to-user-input feature, the rationale for combining being "in order to allow users more flexibility in image zooming." Finally, for the feature of "automatically presenting ... a zoomed view," the Examiner relied on In re Venner, explaining that "it has been held that broadly providing an automatic or mechanical means to replace a manual activity which accomplished the same result is not sufficient to distinguish over the prior art." (MPEP 2144.04.III.)

The Applicant appealed and made multiple arguments against obviousness. With respect to the "maximize a fraction ... occupied by the face" limitation allegedly taught by the "full-screen" discussion in Shiratani, the Applicant argued that the reference did not teach making the face full-screen, but rather making the entire image full-screen. The Applicant then focused on the claim limitation "zoomed view covering an area of the UI configured to present the ... digital images," which the Examiner read on FIG. 9B of Shiratani.
The Applicant suggested that since Shiratani's UI included multiple images in the same window, the zoomed view did not cover the area presenting the digital image.

Finally, the Applicant traversed the Examiner's reliance on Nose for image zooming in response to user input. The Applicant pointed out that Nose described a two-step shutter button in a digital camera, where a half-press of the shutter button zoomed in on a face, and a full-press recorded the current image. Thus, zoom feature in Nose was a zoom before an image is captured, where the claim referred to zooming in a digital image already in existence.

In the Answer, the Examiner responded to the Applicant arguments with additional explanation. First, the Examiner reiterated that "Paragraphs 0017-0020 & Figures 9A/9B [of primary reference Shiratani] disclose maximizing or zooming an image which is already occupying an entire area of the user interface." The Examiner then explicitly explained how the combination was used to reject the claim: "Shiratani ... discloses enlarging the image after capture [while] Nose's contribution surrounds the ability to use the half-press [by the user] to zoom" (emphasis added.)

In a Reply Brief, the Applicant noted an inconsistency in the Examiner's position.
... [t]he Examiner has also made competing assertions with respect to Shiratani ... the Examiner has explicitly acknowledged that "[p]aragraphs 0017-0020  & Figures 9A/9B disclose an album with different faces being disclosed in two or more different images." ... In doing so, the Examiner has contradicted his previous assertion [in the Answer] that Shiratani's "[p]aragraphs 0017-000 & Figures 9A/9B discloses maximizes or zooming an image which is already occupying an entire area of the user interface.
(Emphasis in original.)
The Board agreed with the Applicant that the Examiner's reliance on Nose was in error.
Nose's zooming by half-pressing a shutter button occurs before capture of an image with its "image taking device," whereas the claims are directed to post-capture processing of images with a computer system.
Because the Examiner also admitted that Shiratani failed to teach this feature, the Board reversed the obviousness rejection.

My two cents: The Board got this one wrong: the Examiner's Answer clearly stated that it was the combination of Shiratani and Nose that taught the claimed feature. Nose provided a generic zoom-in-response-to-user-action, while Shiratani taught the claimed zoom details.

The Examiner made it easy for the Board to reach this conclusion, by presenting disjointed findings instead of a single coherent rejection. That is, the body of the rejection in the Answer explicitly stated that Nose taught the entire zoom limitation – and apparently that's the part the Board read. Then, the Response to Arguments section of the Answer contradicted the earlier statement, and explained instead that Nose taught zoom-in-response-to-user and Shiritani taught all other zoom details.

This habit – never revising a position, instead always piling on new stuff – is common practice by both Examiners and Applicants. I certainly appreciate it when the Examiner specifically responds to my arguments, but prefer that the Examiner do so by updating the rejection to take my arguments into account. If the Examiner instead reiterates the errored rejection then provides new information in a "Response to Arguments" section  – as he did here  – then the Applicant has two choices. One, file a response that goes point-by-point to address each contested Examiner statement as a separate argument. Alternatively, the Applicant could synthesize the total of all the Examiner's findings, resolving any internal contradictions, and make a coherent argument against this synthesized rejection.

Most Applicants take the first approach, even though it results in a disjointed argument – and IMHO a disjointed argument is by definition weaker than one that is coherently presented. I imagine there are a variety of reasons why Applicants don't incorporate multiple (and sometimes contradictory) Examiner findings into a single "synthesized" rejection. One, the Examiner contradicting himself is a good thing, right – highlight the contradiction and characterize it as error. Two, the Applicant's job is only to traverse the specific rejection on the record. I have a different viewpoint. As far as I know, an internal inconsistency or contradiction in a rejection isn't fatal error, so I don't see this as a strong argument. Moreover, assuming I'm confident about the "synthesized" rejection,* I am addressing the rejection on the record –I'm just doing a better job of explaining it than the Examiner did.

*I limit this "synthesized rejection" approach to instances where I am confident that I can resolve the internal contradictions/inconsistencies in the rejection. Ex parte Bhatt seems like a good candidate.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

PTAB Finds Claims Directed to Point-of-Sale System for Printing Coupons for a Third Party to be Patent-Eligible Subject Matter

Takeaway: The PTAB reversed an Examiner's rejection under 35 U.S.C. § 101 of claims to a retailer's point-of-sale (POS) system that printed coupons for a third-party's unrelated goods or services. In part, the PTAB focused on the specific limitations of the claims to find that the claims do not preempt the abstract idea as defined by the Examiner. (Ex parte Barous, Appeal No. 2016-003320, PTAB, August 1, 2016).

Details:
Ex parte Barous
Appeal 2016-003320; Application No. 10/397,778; Technology Center 3600
Decided: August 1, 2016
In Ex parte Barous, the PTAB reversed an Examiner’s rejection of claims that recited utilizing a retailer's point-of-sale (POS) system that printed coupons for a third-party's unrelated goods or services  under 35 U.S.C. § 101 for being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.
The PTAB identified claims 14 and 43 as being representative of the claimed subject matter:
14. A system for distributing third-party coupons by a retailer on the Internet, the Internet including a computer with a monitor and a printer, the third-party coupons being associated with goods or services of a third-party retailer, which goods or services are unrelated to the goods or services of the retailer and wherein the third-party retailer purchases advertising from the retailer, the system comprising:

a server configured to:

cause a graphical user interface (GUI) to be displayed on the monitor;

display an advertisement associated with a third-party coupon of the third-party retailer;

display a threshold value in the GUI;

calculate a value of a transaction based on a purchase of goods or services made from the retailer by a consumer;

display the value of the transaction in the GUI; and

enable the computer to print the third-party coupon when the value of the transaction exceeds the threshold value;

wherein the third-party coupon is redeemable for the goods or services of the third-party
retailer; and

wherein goods or services of the third-party retailer are unrelated to the goods or services sold by the retailer and therefore are unpurchaseable from the retailer.

43. A checkout system for a retail outlet for distributing third- party discount coupons associated with one or more third-party retailers comprising:

a printer; and

a point-of-sale register having a processor configured to:

add prices of items purchased by a shopper to reach a total sale ST;

compare the total sale ST of the shopper to a threshold sale value T; and

print one or more third-party coupons for use with a respective third-party retailer to purchase goods or services unrelated to the goods or services offered by the retail outlet if the total sale ST of the shopper exceeds the threshold sale value T.
 
At step one of the Alice/Mayo framework, the Examiner found that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of distributing coupons by a retailer for the purpose of enhancing revenue, and the Appellant did not dispute the Examiner's characterization.  However, during its analysis, the PTAB disagreed with the Examiner and found that the Examiner's characterization of the abstract idea as being too broad.  Instead, the PTAB found that the claims were directed to "much more limited systems and methods distributing only coupons redeemable at a third-party retailer for goods that were unpurchaseable at the issuing retailer and/or are unrelated to the goods or services offered by the issuing retailer, and then only upon the occurrence of certain conditions."
Regarding step two, the Examiner stated "[t]he steps or acts performed (utilizing a processor) in independent method claims 27 and 50 are not enough to qualify as 'significantly more' than the abstract idea itself, since the claims are a mere instruction to apply the abstract idea. Furthermore, there is no improvement to another technology or technical field, no improvements to the functioning of the computer itself, and no meaningful limitations beyond generally linking the use of an abstract idea to a particular technical environment, and the claims require no more than a generic computer to perform generic computer functions that are well-understood, routine and conventional."  The Appellant argued that, in the prior art, retailers commonly distributed coupons to enhance sales of goods or services provided by the retailer.  The Appellant contrasted the prior art with the claimed invention by stating the claimed subject matter:
entails systems and methods that enable a retailer to distribute coupons in a different way. For example, the retailer's point- of-sale (POS) register distributes a so-called third-party coupon that is redeemable for a discount on the goods or services sold by some other retailer. These goods or services of the third- party retailer are unrelated to the goods or services offered by the retailer distributing the coupon. The retailer's POS register is configured to print this coupon for a shopper when the register determines that the value of the goods or services purchased by the shopper from the retailer exceeds a threshold value. This enhances the retailer's revenue because the shopper increases his or her purchase from the retailer in order to receive discount coupons for a third-party retailer.
 
The Appellant further argued that the claims meet the specific threshold set forth in step two because the claims "add specific limitations to what is known in the art" because:
[i]t is unconventional for a retailer's POS register to print a coupon for the purchase of a third-party retailer's unrelated goods or services. It is especially unconventional for the retailer's POS register to condition doing this on a shopper's total purchase from the retailer exceeding a certain threshold sale value. None of this is routine or well understood. In fact, twelve years of prosecution reveals that nothing in the prior art teaches these additional features or even renders them obvious. Nothing of record demonstrates that this sort of activity has ever been previously engaged in by those in the field.
 
In its analysis, the PTAB relied upon the specific limitations of the claims to find that the claims do not preempt the "abstract idea" as defined by the Examiner.  To support this conclusion, the PTAB related upon the 2014 Interim Guidance on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility to identify that “specific limitations other than what is well understood, routine and conventional in the field, or adding unconventional steps that confine the claim to a particular useful application” qualify under the "significantly more" exception of step two.  The PTAB went on to state that these guidelines require that if an Examiner decides the limitations do not add "significantly more" to the claim, the Examiner must identify the limitations and explanations provided as to why this is the case.  The PTAB found that the Examiner failed to provide persuasive arguments or evidence as to why the limitations were not "significantly more" (i.e., the argument “are generic computer functions (e.g. adding, comparing and printing) that are well-understood, routine and conventional activities previously known to the industry” did not suffice.)
Based upon these findings, the PTAB reversed the Examiner’s rejections of the claims as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter finding that the claims did add "significantly more" to the abstract idea.
My two cents:  Appellants may look to contrast specific limitations within the claim with the prior art to illustrate that those claims limitations add "significantly more" to the alleged abstract idea.  Additionally, these types of limitations may be utilized to argue that the claimed subject matter is an "unconventional" arrangement of elements.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

PTAB Reverses Examiner’s Patent-Ineligible Subject Matter Rejection of Method Claims for Using Multi-Pixels Spectral Images to Identify Microorganisms

Takeaway: The PTAB reversed an Examiner's rejection of claims for utilizing multi-pixel spectral images to identify microorganisms under 35 U.S.C. § 101 as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.  In part, the PTAB focused on the practical application of the claimed subject matter to find that the claims do not preempt the abstract idea or any natural law.  (Ex parte Ismail, Appeal No. 2014-005477, PTAB, July 1, 2016).
Ex parte Ismail
Appeal 2014-005477; Application No. 11/630,856; Technology Center 1600
Decided: July 1, 2016
Details:  In Ex parte Ismail, the PTAB reversed an Examiner’s rejection of claims for using multi-pixels spectral images to identify microorganisms under 35 U.S.C. § 101 for being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.
Claim 1, which is representative of the claimed subject matter, recites:
1. A method for characterizing a microorganism said method comprising:
a) obtaining at least one multi-pixels spectral image of a sample of said microorganism, wherein each pixel of said multi-pixels spectral image has a corresponding spectrum;
b) selecting one or more spectra from said multi-pixels spectral image, wherein said selecting is based on one or more spectral characteristics of said corresponding spectrum; and
c) identifying said microorganism by comparing said one or more selected spectra with spectra of reference microorganisms from a database to determine an identity of said microorganism.
At step one of the Alice/Mayo framework, the Examiner found that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of data manipulation.  More specifically, the Examiner found that the claims recite “methods for characterizing a microorganism by determining an identity of an organism” through “empirical and data analysis and acquisition steps [that] are well-understood, conventional, and routine in diagnosing imaging microorganisms.”   Additionally, the Examiner found “there is no clear-cut practical application of the objective of the claim” and thus concludes the claims are drawn to a patent-ineligible “law of nature/natural principle.”  The Examiner then went on to find that the claims “recite neither a physical transformation nor a critical tie of a significant step to a particular machine.”
The PTAB agreed with the Appellant in finding that the Examiner did not persuasively show that the claims, considered in their entirety, are limited to an abstract idea or natural principle. For example the Appellants argued that the claim limitations of claim 1 require obtaining a multi-pixels spectral image of a sample and then selecting a spectra from that image based on its spectral characteristics.  Additionally, the claim limitations required that selected spectral data of the sample be compared with spectral data of reference microorganisms in a database to identify the sample microorganism.  The Appellants argued that these limitations tied the claim to a particular machine and that comparing spectra from pixels of the image with spectra from a database is not merely a mental process as argued by the Examiner.  For instance, the Examiner argued that the “body of independent claim 1 relies on image data analysis of image data … [that] may be interpreted to be obtained empirically.”  However, the PTAB found that the Examiner did not adequately explain this contention to find that the claimed subject matter was not an abstract idea under step one of the Alice/Mayo framework.
The PTAB then addressed the claimed subject matter under step two of the Alice/Mayo framework (whether the claimed subject matter includes an “inventive concept”).  Similar to the findings with respect to step one, the PTAB was unconvinced that the Examiner set forth reasoning that the “steps recited in the claims are so conventional and routine that the claims, in their entirety, lack any inventive concept.” For this portion, the PTAB seemed to focus on whether the claims would wholly preempt “access to the building block itself.” More specifically, the PTAB stated that “the Examiner has not persuasively demonstrated that the claim elements here add nothing of substance such that the claims stand to preempt any law of nature or abstract idea alone.”  In contrast, the PTAB found that “the rejected claims include multiple steps directed to a practical application of a particular type of spectral-image analysis.”
Based upon these findings, the PTAB reversed the Examiner’s rejections of the claims as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.
My two cents:  In line with the decision in BASCOM, the PTAB and courts are starting to focus on whether the claims are directed to a practical application of the alleged abstract idea or whether the claims encompass the abstract idea (and thus preempt that abstract idea).  Applicants may wish to utilize these type of arguments, as it appears that some decisions are relying on the practical application aspect of the claimed subject matter.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

PTAB Utilizes Enfish to Find Claim Directed to Bit Slipping is Directed to Patent-Eligible Subject Matter

Takeaway: The PTAB issued a decision overturning an Examiner's rejections of method claims directed to bit slipping as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. The Examiner rejected the method claims at issue as being directed to an abstract idea under step one of the Alice/Mayo framework. In overturning the Examiner's rejection, the PTAB utilized the decision in Enfish v. Microsoft to find that the claims were directed to improving the functioning of a computer. (Ex parte Carvalho, Appeal 2015-001076, PTAB July 6, 2016)
Details:
Ex parte Carvalho
Appeal 2015-001076; Application No. 12/283,652; Technology Center 2600
Decided: July 6, 2016
In a decision released on July 6, 2016, a PTAB panel found method claims directed to "bit slipping according to information regarding aligning of words" as directed to patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Claim 14, which is illustrative of the subject matter rejected as directed to patent-ineligible subject matter, recites:
14. A method comprising:

aligning words to a desired word boundary, wherein each of the words has a plurality of bits;

receiving from a word aligner, by a bit slipper, information regarding the aligning; and

slipping bits of the words, wherein total delay due to the aligning and the slipping is constant for all phases of a recovered clock signal,

wherein the aligning and the slipping are performed by a transceiver system.

The Examiner rejected claim 14 as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter because claims 14 was "a mere statement of a general concept," and that its recitation of a "transceiver system," a "recovered clock signal," and the functions of aligning and slipping are insufficient to make the claim patent eligible. More specifically, the Examiner found that claim 14 was directed to the abstract idea of "bit slipping according to information regarding the aligning of words."
The PTAB disagreed with the Examiner and cited the recent Federal Circuit decision in Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp.,_F.3d_, No. 2015-1244, 2016 WL 2756255, (Fed. Cir. May 12, 2016) for its support. Specifically, the PTAB explained that Enfish looked to "improvements in computer-related technology, including software improvements, are not inherently abstract, and thus, it is 'relevant to ask whether the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea, even at the first step of the Alice analysis'" to find the claims at issue in Enfish as directed to patent-eligible subject matter.
The PTAB then explained that the rejected method claims were directed to "an improvement in the functioning of a computer (i.e., eliminating word aligner latency delay uncertainty) and not to the addition of general-purpose computer components to a fundamental economic practice or mathematical equation." To support this decision, the PTAB looked to the specification of Appellant's application to justify that the claims were directed to the improvement in the functioning of a computer. More specifically, the PTAB identified that the specification taught how prior art systems would introduce "a Deserializer/Word aligner latency uncertainty." The PTAB then contrasted the deficiencies of the prior art with the solutions set forth in the specification. Specifically, the PTAB cited that, in an embodiment, the invention "solves this problem of latency uncertainty by using a bit slipper so that the total delay from word aligning and bit slipping is constant for all recovered clock phases, which 'allows for having a fixed and known latency between the receipt and transmission of bits for all phases of parallelization by the deserializer.'"
As such, the PTAB found that claims at issue were not directed to an abstract idea under step one of the Alice/Mayo framework but instead were directed to patent-eligible subject matter because the claims were directed to an improvement in the functioning of the computer.

Takeaway:  This a useful decision by the PTAB illustrating how to rebut an Examiner's rejection under step one of the Alice/Mayo framework. For example, Applicants and practitioners may contemplate including prior deficiencies to illustrate the technological improvements and benefits of the invention in order to align the claims at issue with the decision in Enfish (illustrating that claims are directed to improving the functioning of the computer).  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Federal Circuit Further Defines Alice Step Two to Find Claims Reciting Conventional Computing Components to Include Inventive Concept

Takeaway: The Federal Circuit issued a decision expanding upon "inventive concept," finding that the inquiry requires more than identifying that each claim element, by itself, was known in the art. Based upon this finding, the Federal Circuit found that claims directed to a specific implementation of filtering content on the Internet did include an inventive concept where the claims set forth a "non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces." (BASCOM Global Internet Services, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, No. 2015-1372 (Fed. Cir. June 27, 2016)).

Details: BASCOM Global Internet Services, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility, LLC
No. 2015-1372
Decided: June 27, 2016

On June 27, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in BASCOM Global Internet Services, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility, LLC further expanding upon step two of the Alice/Mayo framework. As a quick refresher, step one of the Alice/Mayo framework determines whether the claims recite merely an abstract idea, and step two of the Alice/Mayo framework determines whether the claims, if directed to an abstract idea, include an "inventive concept." As stated in Alice v. CLS Bank, "an inventive concept that transforms the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention must be significantly more than the abstract idea itself, and cannot simply be an instruction to implement or apply the abstract idea on a computer."

The patent at issue, U.S. Patent No. 5,987,606, included two groups of claims: a first group limited to individual-customizable filtering on a remote ISP server, and a second group further limited to a hybrid filtering scheme implemented on the ISP server comprised of a master-inclusive list, an individual-customizable set of exclusive lists, and an individual-customizable set of inclusive lists. Claim 1 was representative of the individual-customizable filtering and recited:

1.  A content filtering system for filtering content retrieved from an Internet computer network by individual controlled access network accounts, said filtering system comprising:

a local client computer generating network access requests for said individual controlled access network accounts;

at least one filtering scheme;

a plurality of sets of logical filtering elements; and

a remote ISP server coupled to said client computer and said Internet computer network, said ISP server associating each said network account to at least one filter- ing scheme and at least one set of filtering elements, said ISP server further receiving said network access requests from said client computer and executing said associated filtering scheme utilizing said associated set of logical filtering elements.

Claim 23, which depends upon claim 22, was representative of the hybrid filtering scheme, and claims 22 and 23 recited:

22. An ISP server for filtering content forwarded to controlled access network account generating network access requests at a remote client computer, each network access request including a destination address field, said ISP server comprising:

a master inclusive-list of allowed sites;

a plurality of sets of exclusive-lists of excluded sites, each controlled access network account associated with at least one set of said plurality of exclusive-lists of excluded sites; and

a filtering scheme, said filtering scheme allowing said network access request if said destination address exists on said master inclusive-list but not on said at least one associated exclusive-list, whereby said controlled access accounts may be uniquely associated with one or more sets of excluded sites.

23.  The ISP server of claim 22 further comprising:

a plurality of inclusive-lists of allowed sites, each controlled access user associated with at least one of said plurality of inclusive-lists of allowed sites, said filtering program further allowing said network access request if said requested destination address exists on said at least one associated inclusive-list.
This case came to the Federal Circuit through on an appeal filed by BASCOM from a district court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In its analysis, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court's assessment that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of filtering content on the Internet at step one of the Mayo/Alice framework.

However, the Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court's assessment that the claimed subject matter did not include an "inventive concept." The district court found that BASCOM did not adequately assert that the claims included an "inventive concept" because "considered individually, or as an ordered combination, are no more than routine additional steps involving generic computer components and the Internet, which interact in well-known ways to accomplish the abstract idea of filtering Internet content.”

The Federal Circuit agreed that the limitations of the claims, when taken individually, did recite "generic computer, network and Internet components." However, the Federal Circuit stated that the "inventive concept inquiry requires more than recognizing that each claim element, by itself, was known in the art" and that "an inventive concept can be found in the non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces." To support its decision, the Federal Circuit stated that the claims did not preempt "all ways of filtering content on the Internet" but instead were directed to "a particular, practical application of that abstract idea."

The Federal Circuit went on analogize the claims at issue with the claims at issue in DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245 (Fed. Cir. 2014). For example, the Federal Circuit identified that the present claims were claiming a technology-based solution to filter content on the Internet that overcomes existing problems with other Internet filtering systems much like the claims present in DDR which were claiming a technical way to satisfy an existing problem for website hosts and viewers.

My two cents: Finally, a Federal Circuit decision providing applicants and appellants the ability to rebut step two assertions from the Patent Office that the claim elements merely recite a "generic," "routine," and/or "conventional" components.