Wednesday, 16 August 2017

USPTO Releases Report on Public Views on Patent Eligibility Rules

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has released a report titled, “PATENT ELIGIBLE SUBJECT MATTER:  REPORT ON VIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THEPUBLIC” (Report) concerning the comments of participants at USPTO sponsored roundtables concerning the patent eligible subject matter requirement, particularly post-Alice/Mayo.  The USPTO summary of the Report states:

Much of the feedback we received highlighted the complexities of determining the appropriate boundaries of patent subject matter eligibility. Commenters confirmed that the recent Supreme Court cases have significantly changed the standards for determining patent subject matter eligibility. Several commenters expressed concern that these decisions have created inconsistency, uncertainty, and unpredictability in the issuance and enforcement of patents, particularly in the life sciences, software, and e-commerce industries.

A diverse group of representatives from academia, industry, law firms, and legal associations proposed legislative changes aimed at reversing the recent trend in the law and restoring, in their view, a more appropriate dividing line between eligible and ineligible subject matter. In contrast, a sizable portion of representatives from the software industry argued that the Court’s two-step test provides an appropriate standard for patent subject matter eligibility. This group cautioned against legislative redress and instead recommended that the common law should be allowed to evolve.

The following is a list of the views against the new rules: “1) Decisions are Legally Flawed; 2) Exceptions are Overbroad; 3) Two Step Test is Unclear and Causes Unpredictability; 4) Preemption Conflates 101 with other Patentability Requirements; 5) Jurisprudence Stifles Innovation and Hurts Business; and 6) Consistency of U.S. Law with International Norms.” Here is a list of the views in favor of the new rules: “1) Common Law Process at Work; 2) Weeds Out Overbroad Patents; 3) Requires Claiming a Specific Way and Not a Result; 4) Litigation Tool Against Patent Assertion Entities; and 5) May Give U.S. Entities an Advantage.” 

On the point in favor of the new rules based on May Give U.S. Entities an Advantage, the Report states:

Even if the Supreme Court’s new eligibility standard differs from standards abroad, a few commentators projected that the difference could actually operate to the benefit of the United States. For example, one commentator argued that because foreign entities have an increasing stake in the U.S. patent system, “[g]eopolitical considerations . . . weigh heavily in favor of” the Supreme Court’s Mayo and Alice decisions.246 In fact, she cautioned that if the U.S. were to adopt an overly expansive patentability standard, then not only would “American inventors, American companies, American investors, and the American public” benefit, but an “equal or greater benefit [would] inure to foreign inventors, foreign companies, and, in some cases foreign governments.”247 Another participant asserted that “if a company is innovating because it can get patents in Germany or Europe but it may not be able to get as much protection in the U.S., that innovation is still happening.” 248 And, she added, “if our consumers can benefit from the additional competition that a lack of patent [protection] provides and pay lower prices here” and “the innovator can still get their investments recouped by getting monopoly profits elsewhere” that may not be a bad deal for our consumers.249

Members of the life sciences community were relatively united in their critique of the new patent eligible subject matter rules.  The computer/related technologies community was apparently less united on whether the patent eligible subject matter rules were a good thing or not. 

There are also several legislative proposals for change, including: Replace the current test with a technological arts or useful arts test; Expressly define exceptions to eligibility; Distinguish eligibility from other patentability requirements; and Establish a research exemption to infringement. 

The text concerning the research exemption states, in relevant part:

Several commentators proposed a legislative amendment to recognize a research exemption from patent infringement for experimentation conducted to better understand or improve a claimed invention.427 According to these commentators, such an amendment would address the Supreme Court’s preemption concerns, i.e., concerns that patents on foundational technological tools may stifle scientific progress by tying up the basic building blocks of human ingenuity.428 One commentator suggested that the exemption could be tailored such that “patents on research tools would be unaffected, but research on a patented invention itself would not be subject to infringement allegations.”429  

The USPTO should be applauded for its hard work in trying to make the patent eligible subject matter rules and their application accessible, and obtaining the public’s viewpoint. 

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