The patent US 7,346,545, relating to delivering copyrighted media products through a server free of charge in exchange for watching advertisements, has been enforced by Ultramercial against a number of Internet media competitors, like Hulu, WildTangent and YouTube. In August 2010 the 545 patent has been found invalid by a California District Court in view of the Bilski v. Kappos ruling which has been issued shortly before by the US Supreme Court (CV 09-06918). For further information on this case, please see my earlier posting here.
To be on the safe side, the District Court applied a two-stage approach, that is, as a screening filter, the CAFC’s machine-or-transformation test and then the SCOTUS abstract idea test.
The MOT test failed as the District Court found that the “mere act of storing media on computer memory does not tie the invention to a machine in any meaningful way”. Further, the Court identified “using advertisement as a currency” as the core principle of the patent, while the claims do not cite any concrete features as to how the core principle can be implemented.
Some observers criticised the District Court’s reasoning as being capable to kill any invention where a key concept can be labelled ‘abstract’ even if the invention is clearly limited to an electronic implementation and even if the electronic implementation is central to the idea.
Now, as the Federal Circuit under Chief Judge Radar reviewed the case in appeal, it turns out that such criticism hit the mark (see decision of June 21, 2013), as the case was reversed and remanded. In its decision the Federal Circuit referred multiple times to the term “technology”, e.g.:
- The plain language of the [patent act] provides that any new, non-obvious, and fully disclosed technical advance is eligible for protection.
- After all, unlike the Copyright Act which divides ideas from expression, the Patent Act covers and protects any new and useful technical advance, including applied ideas.
- Far from abstract, advances in computer technology—both hardware and software—drive innovation in every area of scientific and technical endeavor.
In this ealier posting on the America Invents Act we reported on the new Covered Business Methods Review (faq, info) which allows to challenge any business method patent before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) as soon as it is enforced against an accused infringer.
From a European perspective, this new proceedings seems particularly interesting as the question as to whether or not a claim falls under the CBM review is answered by 37 CFR § 42.301 as follows:
(a) Covered business method patent means a patent that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.
(b) Technological invention. In determining whether a patent is for a technological invention solely for purposes of the Transitional Program for Covered Business Methods (section 42.301(a)), the following will be considered on a case-by-case basis: whether the claimed subject matter as a whole recites a technological feature that is novel and unobvious over the prior art; and solves a technical problem using a technical solution.
This definition is surprisingly similar to what European case law (and German case law) has developed to define “methods for [...] doing business [...] and programs for computers as such” according to Art. 52 (2), (3) EPC (and § 1 (3), (4) PatG). Even further, the requirement of a “technological feature that is novel and unobvious” seems to correspond to the well-established Comvik approach (cf. T 641/00, 2002) of the EPO Boards of Appeal, according to which non-technical features cannot contribute to novelty and inventive step.
The final package of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R.1249, pdf) will enter into force on 16 March 2013 (for a list of amendments and their effective dates, see here). By this date, the most significant amendments of the new Act will enter into force, namely the transformation from the traditional first-to-invent regime to the new first-inventor-to-file regime.
Besides reducing the USPTO’s backlog of approx. 680.000 patent applications and improving patent quality, the main objective of the America Invents Act is to harmonise the US patent system better with international patent law standards and by that facilitate second filings of US applicants in foreign jurisdictions.
This is indeed a brilliant idea, not only for US applicants but also for European applicants and practitioners, as it will align the US system closer with the European patent system. However, event for those legal instruments that are clearly adapted to the European point of view, important differences remain. Some of those tiny differences that may have a huge impacts on practice are outlined below:
On March 16, 2013, the final (third) package of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R.1249, pdf) will enter into force. This will include the transition from the traditional US fist-to-invent system to the first-to-file system as used in the rest of the world. In a recent press release the USPTO announced publication of the
- Examination guidelines for implementing the first inventor to file provisions and the
- Final rules to implement the first inventor to file provisions.
On this blog’s German sister blog ksnh::jur we recently published a series of three postings dedicated to the changes the America Invents Act causes to US patent law. As this piece of US legislation implements one of the most important reforms of internation IP law in recent years, its provisions, legal effects and possibel shortcommings have been extensively – and partly exellently – discussed by so many US blogs that there surely is no need to add another synopsis on a Europe-focussed IP blog like this.
However, as a large portion of our regular readers live and practice in the German-speaking part of Europe, we thought that some of them might appreciated to read about this topic in their mother tongue. The three articles are structured parallel to the three packages of the AIA that enter(ed) into force on 16 Sep 2011 and 16 Sep 2013 and on 16 Mar 2013:
Die Änderungen im US-Patentrecht durch den ‘America Invents Act’
The k/s/n/h::law blog
Some of the patent attorneys of the KSNH law firm have joined their efforts to research what is going on in the various branches of IP law and practice in order to keep themselves, their clients as well as interested circles of the public up to date. This blog is intended to present results of such efforts to a wider public.
- November 2013 (2)
- October 2013 (1)
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- December 2011 (12)
- November 2011 (9)
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- September 2011 (4)
- August 2011 (7)
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- June 2011 (1)
- business methods (6)
- EPC (7)
- EPO (12)
- EU law (92)
- European Patent Law (37)
- German Patent ACt (PatG) (1)
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- US Patent Law (4)
- kelle on Germany: Copyright Protection More Easily Available For Works Of “Applied Arts”
- Time Limits & Deadlines in Draft UPCA RoP: Counting The Days - KSNH Law - Intangible.Me on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- Time Limits & Deadlines in Draft UPCA RoP: Counting The Days | ksnh::law on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Cou... on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- European Commission Takes Next Step Towards Legalising Software Patents in Europe | Techrights on EU Commission publishes Proposal of amendend Brussels I Regulation for ensuring Enforcement of UPC Judgements
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