USPTO: No Change to Software Patent Eligibility Examination After CLS Bank

In a memo dated May 13, 2013, the USPTO told its Patent Examining Corps that the Federal Circuit’s decision in CLS Bank v. Alice, Dkt. No. 2011-1301 (Fed. Cir. May 10, 2013) resulted in “no change in examination procedure for evaluating subject matter eligibility.”

On May 10, 2013 the Federal Circuit issued its en banc opinion in CLS Bank v. Alice, Dkt. No. 201. The court’s main per curiam opinion provided, in total:

Upon consideration en banc, a majority of the court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted method and computer-readable media claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. An equally divided court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted system claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under that statute.

The court was sharply divided across six separate opinions.

The USPTO memo provided that several important themes emerged from the various separate opinions:

  •  There was agreement that the test for eligibility is not a rigid, bright line test and must be made by evaluating a claim as a whole, on a case-by-case basis, using a flexible approach.
  • Many of the judges explicitly noted that the test for eligibility is a separate and distinct inquiry from other patentability concerns, particularly novelty and obviousness.
  • It was generally agreed that when evaluating the claim as a whole the claim must be analyzed to determine whether the additional limitations add significantly more, or in other words add meaningful limits, to the abstract idea or law of nature.

The memo concludes by stating that the USPTO will continue to study the decision in CLS Bank and will consider whether further detailed guidance is needed on patent subject matter eligibility under 35 USC 101.

Software patents claims through system claims should still be patentable under the CLS Bank decision because the court was equally divided. An equally divided court provides no majority position with respect to the system claims at issue.

 

 

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