Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Judge Linn's dissent in Smart Systems; asserting majority engaging in "reductionist exercise"

Judge Linn's dissent in Smart Systems begins:

The court once again concludes that the judicially crafted “abstract idea” exception to patent eligibility now renders invalid the asserted claims of four U.S. patents covering apparatus and methods created by human activity to overcome heretofore perceived limitations in the use of ordinary bankcards to access transit systems. The majority commits the same error as the district court in engaging in a reductionist exercise of ignoring the limitations of the claims in question and, at least with respect to the ’003 and ’617 patents, in failing to appreciate that the abstract idea exception—if it is to be applied at all—must be applied narrowly, consistent with its genesis. Because the representative claims of the ’003 and ’617 patents are not directed to abstract ideas under any reasonable application of the Alice/Mayo test, I respectfully dissent. Because the majority’s determination with respect to the representative claims of the ’816 and ’390 patents is consistent with past decisions finding ineligibility, I concur with that part of its decision, not because the inventions covered by the claims do not deserve patent protection but because I am bound by precedent to reach that conclusion.

As to abstract idea:

The narrow character of the law of nature and natural phenomenon exceptions is relatively self-evident, but the contours of the abstract idea exception are not easily defined. For that reason, the abstract idea exception is almost impossible to apply consistently and coherently. To determine whether a claim is patent ineligible as merely an abstract idea, the Supreme Court instructed that the inquiry may be broken into two parts or steps: first, determine if the claim is “directed to an abstract idea,” and second, consider whether the claim contains something more in terms of an “inventive concept.” Alice, 134 S. Ct. at 2355; Mayo, 132 S. Ct. at 1296–97. The problem with this test, however, is that it is indeterminate and often leads to arbitrary results. Moreover, if applied in a legal vacuum divorced from its genesis and treated differently from the other two exceptions, it can strike down claims covering meritorious inventions not because they attempt to appropriate a basic building block of scientific or technological work, but simply because they seemingly fail the Supreme Court’s test.


Step one cannot be a hunt for the abstract idea underlying the claim, because underlying virtually every claim is an abstract idea. And if the task under step one is to assess whether the claim is directed to no more than an abstract idea, what is left for determination under step two? Where do you draw the line between properly determining what the claim is directed to and improperly engaging in an overly reductionist exercise to find the abstract idea that underlies virtually every claim? See Rapid Litig. Mgmt. Ltd. v. CellzDirect, Inc., 827 F.3d 1042, 1050 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“At step one, therefore, it is not enough to merely identify a patent-ineligible concept underlying the claim; we must determine whether that patent-ineligible concept is what the claim is ‘directed to.’”).


Ultimately, the fundamental question in “abstract idea” cases is whether the claim is directed to such a basic building block of scientific or technological activity as to foreclose or inhibit future innovation or whether the claim instead is directed to a tangible application that serves a “new and useful end.” Benson, 409 U.S. at 67; see also Diehr, 450 U.S. at 188 (“While a scientific truth, or the mathematical expression of it, is not a patentable invention, a novel and useful structure created with the aid of knowledge of scientific truth may be.” (quoting Mackay Radio, 306 U.S. at 94)). Claims directed not merely to basic building blocks of scientific or technological activity but instead to innovative solutions to real problems that result from human activity and are not capable of performance solely in the human mind should be fully eligible for patent protection and not lightly discarded.

The dissent agreed on the 816 and 390 patents but noted:

The inventions recited in the asserted claims of both of these patents are the result of human activity and facilitate the use of bankcards for a new purpose heretofore considered practically foreclosed. Regrettably, however, and for the reasons set forth in the majority opinion, our precedent leaves no room for such an argument. The claims of the ’816 patent and the ’390 patent are directed to what we have generally characterized as a “fundamental economic practice long prevalent in our system of commerce,” see Alice 134 S. Ct. at 2356. Such inventions are categorically rejected as “abstract ideas,” regardless of merit. While I disagree with such a categorical exclusion, I am bound by the precedent cited and relied on by the majority and, for that reason, am constrained to concur with the majority’s holding of patent ineligibility of the asserted claims of the ’816 and ’390 patents.


Post a Comment

<< Home