Talk:In Re Bilski

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Courtney

Patent applicants challenged denial of patent application for method of hedging risk in field of commodities trading based on lack of patent-eligible subject matter. The Patent and Trademark Office, Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, 2006 WL 5738364, sustained rejection of all claims in application. Applicants appealed.

The examiner ultimately rejected claims 1-11 under 35 U.S.C. § 101, stating: “[r]egarding ... claims 1-11, the invention is not implemented on a specific apparatus and merely manipulates [an] abstract idea and solves a purely mathematical problem without any limitation to a practical application, therefore, the invention is not directed to the technological arts.” See Board Decision, slip op. at 3. The examiner noted that Applicants had admitted their claims are not limited to operation on a computer, and he concluded that they were not limited by any specific apparatus. See id. at 4.

The true issue before us then is whether Applicants are seeking to claim a fundamental principle (such as an abstract idea) or a mental process. And the underlying legal question thus presented is what test or set of criteria governs the determination by the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) or courts as to whether a claim to a process is patentable under § 101 or, conversely, is drawn to unpatentable subject matter because it claims only a fundamental principle.

The question before us then is whether Applicants' claim recites a fundamental principle and, if so, whether it would pre-empt substantially all uses of that fundamental principle if allowed. Unfortunately, this inquiry is hardly straightforward. How does one determine whether a given claim would pre-empt all uses of a fundamental principle? Analogizing to the facts of Diehr or Benson is of limited usefulness because the more challenging process claims of the twenty-first century are seldom so clearly limited in scope as the highly specific, plainly corporeal industrial manufacturing process of Diehr; nor are they typically as broadly claimed or purely abstract and mathematical as the algorithm of Benson.

[5] Headnote Citing References[6] Headnote Citing References The Supreme Court, however, has enunciated a definitive test to determine whether a process claim is tailored narrowly enough to encompass only a particular application of a fundamental principle rather than to pre-empt the principle itself. A claimed process is surely patent-eligible under § 101 if: (1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing. See Benson, 409 U.S. at 70, 93 S.Ct. 253 (“Transformation and reduction of an article ‘to a different state or thing’ is the clue to the patentability of a process claim that does not include particular machines.”); Diehr, 450 U.S. at 192, 101 S.Ct. 1048 (holding that use of mathematical formula in process “transforming or reducing an article to a different state or thing” constitutes patent-eligible subject matter); see also Flook, 437 U.S. at 589 n. 9, 98 S.Ct. 2522 (“An argument can be made [that the Supreme] Court has only recognized a process as within the statutory definition when it either was tied to a particular apparatus or operated to change materials to a ‘different state or thing’ ”); Cochrane v. Deener, 94 U.S. 780, 788, 24 L.Ed. 139 (1876) (“A process is ... an act, or a series of acts, performed upon the subject-matter to be transformed and reduced to a different state or thing.”).FN7 A claimed process involving a fundamental principle that uses a particular machine or apparatus would not pre-empt uses of the principle that do not also use the specified machine or apparatus in the manner claimed. And a claimed process that transforms a particular article to a specified different state or thing by applying a fundamental principle would not pre-empt the use of the principle to transform any other article, to transform the same article but in a manner not covered by the claim, or to do anything other than transform the specified article.

CONCLUSION Because the applicable test to determine whether a claim is drawn to a patent-eligible process under § 101 is the machine-or-transformation test set forth by the Supreme Court and clarified herein, and Applicants' claim here plainly fails that test, the decision of the Board is

AFFIRMED.

Maura

Importantly, however, the claim is not limited to transactions involving actual commodities, and the application discloses that the recited transactions may simply involve options, i.e., rights to purchase or sell the commodity at a particular price within a particular timeframe. See J.A. at 86-87.

The examiner ultimately rejected claims 1-11 under 35 U.S.C. § 101, stating: “[r]egarding ... claims 1-11, the invention is not implemented on a specific apparatus and merely manipulates [an] abstract idea and solves a purely mathematical problem without any limitation to a practical application, therefore, the invention is not directed to the technological arts.”

Further, the Board held that the requirement of a specific apparatus was also erroneous because a claim that does not recite a specific apparatus may still be directed to patent-eligible subject matter “if there is a transformation of physical subject matter from one state to another.”

But the Board concluded that Applicants' claims do not involve any patent-eligible transformation, holding that transformation of “non-physical financial risks and legal liabilities of the commodity provider, the consumer, and the market participants” is not patent-eligible subject matter.

Finally, the Board held that Applicants' process as claimed did not produce a “useful, concrete and tangible result,” and for this reason as well was not drawn to patent-eligible subject matter. Id. at 49-50.

Thus, the issue before us involves what the term “process” in § 101 means, and how to determine whether a given claim-and Applicants' claim 1 in particular-is a “new and useful process.” FN3

In 1952, at the time Congress amended § 101 to include “process,” FN4 the ordinary meaning of *952 the term was: “[a] procedure ... [a] series of actions, motions, or operations definitely conducing to an end, whether voluntary or involuntary.” Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language 1972 (2d ed.1952). There can be no dispute that Applicants' claim would meet this definition of “process.” But the Supreme Court has held that the meaning of “process” as used in § 101 is narrower than its ordinary meaning. See Flook, 437 U.S. at 588-89, 98 S.Ct. 2522 (“The holding [in Benson ] forecloses a purely literal reading of § 101.”). Specifically, the Court has held that a claim is not a patent-eligible “process” if it claims “laws of nature, natural phenomena, [or] abstract ideas.”

The true issue before us then is whether Applicants are seeking to claim a fundamental principle (such as an abstract idea) or a mental process. And the underlying legal question thus presented is what test or set of criteria governs the determination by the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) or courts as to whether a claim to a process is patentable under § 101 or, conversely, is drawn to unpatentable subject matter because it claims only a fundamental principle.

The Court declared that while a claim drawn to a fundamental principle is unpatentable, “an application of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection.”

The question before us then is whether Applicants' claim recites a fundamental principle and, if so, whether it would pre-empt substantially all uses of that fundamental principle if allowed. Unfortunately, this inquiry is hardly straightforward. How does one determine whether a given claim would pre-empt all uses of a fundamental principle?

The Supreme Court, however, has enunciated a definitive test to determine whether a process claim is tailored narrowly enough to encompass only a particular application of a fundamental principle rather than to pre-empt the principle itself. A claimed process is surely patent-eligible under § 101 if: (1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing.

At present, however, and certainly for the present case, we see no need for such a departure and reaffirm that the machine-or-transformation test, properly applied, is the governing test for determining patent eligibility of a process under § 101.FN12

Pre-emption of all uses of a fundamental principle in all fields and pre-emption of all uses of the principle in only one field both indicate that the claim is not limited to a particular application of the principle. See Diehr, 450 U.S. at 193 n. 14, 101 S.Ct. 1048 (“A mathematical formula in the abstract is nonstatutory subject matter regardless of whether the patent is intended to cover all uses of the formula or only limited uses.”) (emphasis added). In contrast, a claim that is tied to a particular machine or brings about a particular transformation of a particular article does not pre-empt all uses of a fundamental principle in any field but rather is limited to a particular use, a specific application. Therefore, it is not drawn to the principle in the abstract.

The first of these is known as the Freeman-Walter-Abele test after the three decisions*959 of our predecessor court that formulated and then refined the test: In re Freeman, 573 F.2d 1237 (CCPA 1978); In re Walter, 618 F.2d 758 (CCPA 1980); and In re Abele, 684 F.2d 902 (CCPA 1982). This test, in its final form, had two steps: (1) determining whether the claim recites an “algorithm” within the meaning of Benson, then (2) determining whether that algorithm is “applied in any manner to physical elements or process steps.” Abele, 684 F.2d at 905-07.

To be sure, a process tied to a particular machine, or transforming or reducing a particular article into a different state or thing, will generally produce a “concrete” and “tangible” result as those terms were used in our prior decisions. But while looking for “a useful, concrete and tangible result” may in many instances provide useful indications of whether a claim is drawn to a fundamental principle or a practical application of such a principle, that inquiry is insufficient to determine whether a claim is patent-eligible under § 101. And it was certainly never intended to supplant the Supreme Court's test. Therefore, we also conclude that the “useful, concrete and tangible result” inquiry*960 is inadequate and reaffirm that the machine-or-transformation test outlined by the Supreme Court is the proper test to apply.

Thus, the proper inquiry under § 101 is not whether the process claim recites sufficient “physical steps,” but rather whether the claim meets the machine-or-transformation test.FN25 As a result, even a claim that recites “physical steps” but neither recites a particular machine or apparatus, nor transforms any article into a different state or thing, is not drawn to patent-eligible subject matter. Conversely, a claim that purportedly lacks any “physical steps” but is still tied to a machine or achieves an eligible transformation passes muster under § 101.

Because the applicable test to determine whether a claim is drawn to a patent-eligible process under § 101 is the machine-or-transformation test set forth by the Supreme Court and clarified herein, and Applicants' claim here plainly fails that test, the decision of the Board is AFFIRMED.