How Appealing a Patent Application Before Filing an RCE Can Yield Big B-Delay PTA

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Patent prosecution has a bevy of procedural options for a wide range of preferences. For those who want to maximize the life of the patent and aren’t impatient in getting the grant, some strategies promote maximum patent term. Here, we discuss how appealing a patent application can promote patent term adjustment (PTA), even if the appeal is unsuccessful.

We recently reported on how a successful appeal (not unpatentable for at least one claim) can result in C-Delay PTA. This gives all the time wasted in getting a favorable disposition from the Board back to the patent’s term. But if the appeal is unsuccessful (i.e., the decision comes back upholding a rejection with respect to all claims), and the application does eventually get granted, B-Delay can still replenish this lost time as PTA. But to do so, it must follow a certain timeline.

In general, B-delay is available when the USPTO does not grant a patent within 36 months. That is, every day over the 36-month mark that it takes to grant your application goes into your B-delay PTA. But B-delay is unavailable for the time after an RCE is filed. This point has implications for deciding when to appeal a decision, especially since the appeal process can be long and since not every appeal will be successful.

Under this approach, appeals are used strategically rather than as a procedure of last resort. Instead of filing an RCE to continue examination, an appeal is filed. Many applicants, do indeed use appeals strategically. If the appeal is affirmed, and if an RCE is filed to continue examination and the application eventually does get granted, then does the

An example shows this approach in action. US Patent No. 9,701,462 was recently issued with a whopping 2,230 days of PTA. The secret to over six years of PTA? Appeals. After receiving a Final Office Action, the applicant straightway appealed. The Board affirmed the Examiner, but introduced a new rejection. Subsequently, the applicant responded with an Amendment. The Examiner responded with a Final Rejection, after which the applicant appealed again. This time on appeal it was affirmed-in-part. Because an RCE was never filed, it qualified for 1231 days of B-delay.

pta b delay

This appeal-before-RCE strategy is difficult to pursue in practice—not a trivial or whimsical exercise. It takes preparation to make sure all the necessary evidence is on the record and that the claims are just the way they should be for appeal (before a Final Office Action closes prosecution). Indeed, you may want to front-load much of the back-and-forth work with the Examiner with at least one interview.

Another difficulty is more psychological. Some examiners may confuse the situation by offering a hope (sometimes a false hope) that prosecution is close to concluding. Then the practitioner believes that just one more narrowing amendment is needed. But is this one little amendment needed to allow the case? Or is it needed to overcome the current rejection? Or will the Examiner not even commit to that one narrowing amendment overcoming the current rejection? Many cases with long prosecution histories are made through a series of small amendments.

However difficult it is to front-load the work at the first response, and however difficult it is to weed through the hopeful assurances of the Examiner, appealing early on can pay off big dividends in the form of PTA.

 

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Recent ex parte appeal PTAB decision cuts a corner to avoid deciding an appealed rejection

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Patent Office employees are creatures of incentives. It is well-known that patent examiners earn various counts for use in the USPTO’s internal quota system. PTAB judges are also measured by a count-based system, which is based on the number of decisions they author. It is no secret that Examiners and PTAB judges at times get creative with policies and practices to most easily meet their quotas. Here, we look at a recent decision that shows a practice of PTAB judges deciding only one ground of rejection without looking to the remaining pending ground on appeal.

In deciding grounds of rejection on appeal, the three judge panel almost always decides all the contested pending rejections. Of course, if an appellant chooses not to argue against a ground of rejection in the appeal brief, the Board will summarily affirm the rejection. Very rarely, the Board decides only one ground of rejection on appeal and lets that carry the day, without deciding other pending grounds of rejection. This rarity is found in recently decided Ex Parte MacArthur et al (PTAB Jan. 2, 2018).

In Ex parte MacArthur, the appellant had challenged both a Section 101 abstract idea rejection and a Section 112 indefiniteness rejection. But the panel never even reached the second ground of rejection. After affirming the abstract idea rejection, the panel “exercised [their] discretion” and “declined to reach the merits of the Examiner’s remaining rejection.” This, after the appellant had devoted nine pages of argumentation on the Section 112 rejection in the appeal brief and the reply brief.

To support its discretion not to reach the remaining issue on appeal, the Board cited to two Federal Circuit cases. In re Basell Poliolefine, 547 F.3d 1371, 1379 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (“Having concluded that the Board properly affirmed the rejection of claims 1-52 of the ‘687 patent based on obviousness-type double patenting in view of the ‘987 patent, we need not address the remaining issues raised by Basell regarding the §§ 102(b) and 103(a) rejections, as well as the additional double patenting rejections.”); Beloit Corp. v. Valmet Oy, 742 F.2d 1421 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (ITC having decided a dispositive issue, there was no need for the Commission to decide other issues decided by the presiding officer). Another interpretation is that the panel found a way to achieve the same credit for deciding this appeal without the work of deciding the second issue.

Ex parte MacArthur is certainly not the first to use this kind of discretion to decline the call to decide remaining issues on appeal. Another relatively recent case, Ex parte Palmer (PTAB Mar. 10 2016), summarily affirmed a 112 rejection and proceeded not to reach several 103(a) rejections. In this analysis, the Board justified not reaching the 103(a) rejections by expressing concern for managing the Board’s docket. It also cited to the same ITC case above.

To the defense of PTAB judges, often there are many fact-specific grounds of rejection to be decided on appeal, which require time to analyze and write up. Especially in Ex parte Palmer, it would have taken a lot of time for the panel to pore over multiple references in deciding several obviousness rejections. But even though this requires a lot of time, it’s what PTAB judges do. That is, these decisions that do not decide all contested issues are extremely rare compared with the overwhelming majority of decisions that decide every issue that is argued. Interestingly, both of the above-discussed decisions come from the same tech center of 1700.

True, the appeal backlog has historically forced the PTO to get creative and balance resources at the BPAI/PTAB. But this decision not deciding an issue on appeal comes amid plunging backlogs for ex parte appeals. For example, as we recently reported, in the past year the backlog for tech center 1700 has dropped from 22.8 months to 16.9. Thus, the concern for creatively using judge resources is less compelling.

Plus, a half-baked effort at the PTAB may do little to speed up efficiency at the USPTO anyway. After a rejection is affirmed at the Board, the applicant can still prevail on this issue after reopening prosecution, either through additional argumentation or amendments. And back in the Examiner’s docket, if the Examiner still digs into his/her position on the other issue that was never decided by the board, then it would require another appeal to resolve. Better to do the job right the first time, even if it is tempting to take the shortcut in the decision.

 

Abstract idea rejections in biotech/pharma are overturned far more than other technologies on appeal at PTAB

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Since 2014, the USPTO has recognizably tried to come up with a holistic framework for determining subject matter eligibility for all sorts of patent applications. In particular, several subject matter eligibility guidelines have been issued in light of recent Supreme Court cases Myriad, Mayo, and Alice and subsequent Federal Circuit decisions. But this endeavor has not been easy. Especially in making a two-step solution for judicial exceptions work for all Examiners across all technology centers. Since appeals can be thought of as an ultimate mechanism for holding Examiner rejections accountable, here we look at how the Examining corps is doing with abstract ideas by looking at how the rate of reversing abstract idea rejections on appeal compares across tech centers.

By far the most common of the judicial exceptions—and the most elusive–is the abstract idea. Further to our recent report, abstract idea rejections are ubiquitous across all tech centers. They also get appealed in every tech center, but the reversal rate is far from uniform. The following shows the numbers and reversal rates of each tech center over the course of the past year and a half. We discuss two noteworthy tech centers.

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The first noteworthy tech center is 3600, where the bulk of the abstract idea appeals take place. This tech center, home to much of the USPTO’s business methods/software applications, has a very low reversal rate: 14%. In fact, the large volume of appeals in this tech center alone seems to substantially drag down the entire overall abstract idea reversal rate. See below graph.

The second noteworthy tech center is 1600. Even though the overall reversal rate has gone down since our last report (17% to 16%), tech center 1600, home to the biotech and pharma technical art, has actually solidified at a much higher rate. Specifically, this tech center’s reversal rate has increased from a rate of 28% to 37%. Even while having a limited sample size of 35 abstract idea decisions, this finding is significant. The probability that this reversal rate is higher just due to chance is quite low.

tech center

Why the higher-than-normal reversal rate in biotech? A couple possible reasons. First, possibly most intuitively, Examiners in the biotech/pharma technical space may be issuing and maintaining bad abstract idea rejections more frequently than Examiners in other tech centers, forcing the applicant to appeal. And the judges that are deciding these appealed applications are siding with the appellant more often than in other tech centers.

To the defense of Examiners in tech center 1600, the abstract idea doctrine is not as developed in the biotech/pharma space as other technologies. More prominent patent-eligibility cases in this technical space have focused on the other judicial exceptions: laws of nature (Mayo) and naturally occurring phenomena (Myriad). The lack of much abstract idea case law in biotech may create a blurry boundary line between patent-eligible inventions and patent-ineligible abstract ideas. Plus, with the infusion of computer-technology into life sciences, the applicability of other abstract idea case law has added further complexity to the analysis. Thus, Examiners may feel restricted in allowing a case, waiting for a Federal Circuit to provide a green light to support their position. But the Board seems not to be waiting around. Instead, the Board appears to be supporting the appellant’s position more often than in other tech centers, at least by saying that the Examiner has not met his/her burden of showing patent-ineligibility.

The second reason is that biotech/pharma applicants may have high stakes and/or resources to devote to pursuing broad claims than others (e.g., software applications). Compare these stakes and resources with where the bulk of abstract idea rejections on appeal come from, tech center 3600, where many of the business method applications reside. It is possible that biotech applicants are more motivated and less discouraged from winning on appeal. And as has been shown, not all appellants are equally successful in overturning abstract idea rejections on appeal. And perhaps the applicant or the counsel are driving strategy that fosters a more favorable appeal outcome for abstract ideas.

The USPTO will continue to struggle to strike the right balance between what is patent-eligible subject matter, but having the right appeals data from Anticipat Research can cut right to the heart of how specific grounds of rejection are being overturned on appeal. Even if the reason why remains elusive, biotech/pharma appears to be fertile room to appeal an unreasonable abstract idea rejection.

Anticipat’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2017 – Happy New Year’s!

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As the New Year is upon us, like many of you we are looking forward to a great year. At this time, we are reflective of 2017. In this year, the website of Anticipat.com saw major improvements. We expanded the library of decisions, we improved decision annotations through a unique rationale tag and legal support framework, we launched Practitioner Analytics, and we even made a couple Youtube videos.

We also launched this blog early this year. It has unexpectedly been quite the ride reporting on and providing analysis of ex parte PTAB appeals decisions. In this, it has been critical to see the forest while seeing the trees. Many readers are finding ex parte appeals data helpful for guiding prosecution strategy. Here are the top ten blog posts of this year by traffic.

  1. Which law firms are successful in overturning abstract idea rejections on appeal? – For difficult grounds of rejection, the right advocacy can make all the difference. The right counsel can know when to appeal and how to win on appeal. Here, we explore the demographic of firms that represent appellants that overturn one of the most difficult of all rejections: Section 101 abstract idea.
  2. Section 101 Rejection Overturned. What’s Next: A Notice of Allowance or a Revised Office Action? – It has seemed like the PTAB has been on a recent roll in reversing abstract idea rejections. On this note, two related business method applications came out on October 3, 2017: Ex Parte Webber et al., Appeal No. 2015-003647, and Ex Parte Webber et al., Appeal No. 2015-003796. The Board only sought to decide the rejection at hand and not to evaluate the patent-eligibility of the claims on its own. Now that the decision was rendered, the logical question is what happens next? To understand this, we navigate through a somewhat complex area of rules.
  3. Business methods patent-eligible? PTAB: Yes – Business method art units have been a scary place for patent applications. In Alice v. CLS Bank, a vocal minority of the Supreme Court would have categorically excluded business method patents from eligibility. So it comes as no surprise that many Examiners have raised the bar of patent-eligibility of business method inventions to unprecedented levels. So much so that applicants now try and avoid any claim language that hints at business methods. But business method patents are not per se doomed, as shown in the recently decided Ex parte Breiter, dated September 29, 2017.
  4. Too Simplistic: How the USPTO measures outcomes for ex parte PTAB appeals – Currently, the USPTO measures decision outcomes of ex parte appeals in three different ways: affirmed, affirmed-in-part, or reversed. This is highlighted by the USPTO’s recently released statistics on outcomes of ex parte appeals for FY2017. These stats show that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) very frequently upholds Examiners on appeal, with a 55% affirmance rate. These affirmed rates suggest a job “well done” by the USPTO. However, the way the USPTO counts affirmances yields counterintuitive and misleading results, especially with cases involving multiple grounds of rejection. Indeed for accountability purposes, this way of measuring appeals cloaks the USPTO’s Examining Corps failures.
  5. When a Final Office Action comes in, consider using Anticipat. Here’s why – A first Office Action can involve a lot of guesswork. What does the Examiner mean with a particular rejection analysis? Is the Examiner serious with a particular rejection or just bluffing? Can the Examiner really get away with a particular rejection? An important point about Examiners is that they all examine applications quite differently. For one, they have different personalities and understandings, resulting in a varied interpretation of the patent laws and rules. But not all of these personality quirks or internal memos comport with the patent laws or patent rules, which is where the Board comes in. The Board is the first line of defense in holding Examiners and even their SPEs accountable for the rejections they issue.
  6. Wisdom of the Board: Most Effective Arguments for Obviousness – Can Board decisions help in knowing how to overcome obviousness rejection? [L]ooking at the frequency of arguments can provide a framework and see the most effectively used. In appeal briefs, the Board entertains a lot of arguments and they coalesce around a finite set of them in overturning an obviousness rejection. Board decisions can definitely help organize these arguments. Plus, knowing the most frequent arguments can help in knowing how to draft appeal briefs. But more generally, it helps to align response arguments for proper prosecution. Because if you are following the way that judges overturn rejections, that information can be useful.
  7. PTAB Mocks Alice Supreme Court in Reversing 101 Rejection — Claims Include “Talismanic” Inventive Concept when the conventional computer components are arranged to provide specific advantages to the users – In ex parte Lynch, Appeal No. 2016-002985, the Board reversed a Section 101 rejection, holding that the claimed invention provides an improvement in the functioning of the computer. Finally, in an apparent mocking of the Supreme Court, the Board concluded that the claims include the talismanic inventive concept.
  8. Presentation Recap on Abstract Idea Developments at the PTAB – Trent Ostler did a deep dive on abstract idea developments at the PTAB yesterday at the AIPLA Joint Committee Hot Topics Presentation (Patent Law Committee and ECLC). He used data from Anticipat.com for all his results.
  9. How to overcome an abstract idea rejection? Emphasize narrowing claim amendments and lack of prior art rejections – Recently decided ex parte Blaho, Appeal No. 2016-007954, (PTAB September 28, 2017) reversed an Examiner’s abstract idea rejection. In doing so, the Board first dismissed the Examiner’s characterization of the claims. Then, the Board found that the long prosecution history with significant amendments to overcome prior art rejections was evidence that the claim elements were not routine or conventional. It is a case worth studying for practice tips.
  10. Another “good” bioinformatics claim found patent-eligible by the Board — insufficient evidence of routine and conventional claim – In a previous post, we defined what a good bioinformatics claim looks like. Such a claim does not suffer from divided infringement issues and it does not recite steps to be performed by hospitals or doctors (e.g., medical procedures, administration of therapies) for maximum damages. We also reported that the US Patent Office resists granting such claims, alleging a lack of statutory subject matter. Here, we report on the PTAB continuing a trend of reversing such rejections of these types of claims.

To conclude, thank you for joining with us as we stay current on PTAB developments and trends. We are looking forward to many more interesting posts and for continued improvements to the website. Your feedback is critical to us. Happy New Year’s!

PTAB: Increasingly difficult to overturn abstract idea rejections on appeal

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The latest data from Anticipat show that the effects of #AliceStorm are beginning to stabilize at the PTAB. At a webinar over the summer, we presented data on the reversal rates of abstract idea rejections. Month-to-month, we presented on a highly volatile, but overall low reversal rate for abstract ideas of about 17%. Now with several more months of data, the reversal rate appears to have stabilized around a lower overall reversal rate of 16%. See chart below.

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To lower the overall reversal rate down to 16%, the past few months have seen low reversal rates: September at 15%; October at 11%; November at 14%; and December at 11%. This highlights a trend of eight months in which no monthly reversal rate has exceeded 20%.  See also below table.

Month Aug-16 Sep-16 Oct-16 Nov-16 Dec-16 Jan-17 Feb-17 Mar-17 Apr-17 May-17 Jun-17 Jul-17 Aug-17 Sep-17 Oct-17 Nov-17 Dec-17
Reversal Rate 33% 27% 33% 29% 14% 28% 39% 20% 3% 11% 14% 15% 8% 15% 11% 14% 11%
Reversed 2 3 2 7 3 17 15 16 1 7 13 16 7 10 9 8 2
Total 6 11 6 24 22 60 38 81 31 63 94 108 93 68 83 56 19

The overall reversal rate means that for every appellant appealing an abstract idea rejection through to a final decision, less than one in six will be successful. While the data show this is a difficult rejection to overcome on appeal compared to other rejections, it also shows that appealing such rejections is not a completely futile endeavor.

As abstract idea rejections have grown in popularity among the Examining corps post-Alice, a low reversal rate may embolden Examiners to reject on abstract idea grounds. Technology that had previously rarely encountered abstract idea rejections is now seeing such rejections, making no art unit immune. Plus, computer technology infiltrating every technological sector makes abstract idea rejections even more likely to continue.

But each SPE of each art unit and each director of each tech center approaches Section 101 differently. Anticipat Research provides an ability to search for appeals-data for your particular art unit of interest to see the rates and the recent reversals. As will be seen in a forthcoming post on tech center rates, there are calms within the storm.

 

Which law firms are successful in overturning abstract idea rejections on appeal?

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For difficult grounds of rejection, the right advocacy can make all the difference. The right counsel can know when to appeal and how to win on appeal. Here, we explore the demographic of firms that represent appellants that overturn one of the most difficult of all rejections: Section 101 abstract idea. Recent data show that while some big/specialized firms are successful, others without the same name recognition also are doing relatively well.

We have previously reported that in the post-Alice era, the PTAB reverses abstract idea rejections about 17% of the time. Updated for the past few months (blog post forthcoming), this overall rate has dipped. But this low percentage still represents a sizeable 135 decisions over the past year and a half (specifically, July 25, 2017 through December 1, 2017). This span of time represents the applications that are most likely to have been issued a post-Alice rejection and subsequently appealed. It turns out that select firms make up a good share of these successes, followed by a long tail of single reversals per firm.

Two firms immediately stand out from the pack: Morgan Lewis and Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner. These firms each have 5 reversed decisions on appeal, a laudable number in this post-Alice climate.

Next are firms each having three reversals: Cuenot, Forsythe & Kim and Brinks Gilson and Lione (stemming from three related applications issued the same day).

Next come the firms/companies with two reversals apiece (arranged alphabetically):

Finally, there are 90 other firms/corporations/pro se applicants who have achieved one reversal (see end of post for names).

Our methodology involved using Anticipat Research database to find all reversed Section 101 decisions decided on abstract idea grounds. We then identified the law firm/corporation who signed the reply brief or appeal brief and crediting them with the reversal.

Two things are clear from these data: First, some firms are really quite good (relatively speaking) at appealing abstract idea rejections–even in the face of fast-evolving case law and various application filing dates (pre- and post-Alice). Make no mistake, a firm that can overturn an abstract idea rejection several times over the past year and a half is not doing so out of luck.

Additional research is needed into normalizing these data, which could identify whether these successful firms are achieving such high reversals by appealing much more frequently than others. However, Morgan Lewis and Schwegman would need to appeal quite a bit more than others for their high reversals to be explained only from sheer numbers of ex parte appeals.

Another related question relates to firms having smaller patent prosecution practices. Do these firms’ reversal numbers come in the face of handling a much smaller number of cases than bigger patent prosecution firms? This would indicate that smaller firms are in fact equally if not more successful than the Morgan Lewis and Schwegman types.

The second point that is clear is that a broad diversity of counsel succeeds in appealing abstract idea rejections. Counsel ranges from firms in big cities with the highest of billable rates to boutiques in smaller cities who carry much lower overhead. Solo practitioners also win and even pro se appellants succeed on Section 101 appeals. Common wisdom may suggest that you get what you pay for in patent counsel, and that a high stakes appeal of such a difficult rejection requires a Tom Brady billable rate. But the data show a broad range of counsel are successful, indicating that a superstar billable rate is not required to overturn an abstract idea rejection on appeal.

These two points strike at an interesting concluding point. While there are some certainties in navigating the abstract idea waters, there is a great deal of uncertainties. For the certainties, a certain level of legal sophistication and experience may be needed to successfully argue an abstract idea rejection at the PTAB (persuasive writing and rebutting the Examiner’s points with the right, relevant case law).

For the uncertainties, Section 101 case law has been evolving very regularly since Alice, meaning that there is a large amount of unpredictability and volatility. That being said, having the most up-to-date data available on Section 101 ex parte appeals can equip any counsel with the right tools. Anticipat Practitioner Analytics lets you see the reversal rates for certain Examiners, art units, and tech centers for all types of rejections. It also shows you the most often cited case law used by the PTAB for abstract idea grounds of rejection. Watch this YouTube video for more information or check out this page here: https://anticipat.com/accounts/signup/analytics/ Sign up now for a free trial.

 

As discussed above, here are the firms with one reversal, sorted alphabetically:

 

The PTAB Ex Parte Appeals Backlog Is Falling: What that means for you

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There are several good reasons for not appealing a patent application, even in the absence of progress with the Examiner. One such reason stems from the lengthy PTAB backlog—the period of time it takes for the Board to decide appeals. By the time it takes for the Board to overturn an Examiner’s rejections, investment and PR opportunities directly tied to a patent issuing can wither. Not to mention, a lot can change within the business during this time, such as the viability of stopping infringing activity. So it is often desirable for an applicant to move fast to issuance. And outside of post-grant trials, the PTAB has not been known for speed.

But as the USPTO has aggressively hired PTAB judges to meet demand for post-grant trials, an interesting side-effect has been that the backlog for deciding appeals has fallen to historic lows. For this reason, filing an appeal can result in a disposition sooner than you might think.

As shown in the most recent statistics by the USPTO, pendency of decided appeals is considerably lower compared to last year. See below figure. As can be seen, each tech center that decides patent application appeals saw a substantial reduction in backlog from the previous year. Some technology centers, including electrical and computer arts, are experiencing almost 50% reductions in the backlogs in a single year’s time.

pendency

The PTAB backlog is calculated from the time that the appeal is forwarded to the Board until a decision is made. Another way of measuring the appeal time is the total amount of time from the notice of appeal. For this, simply add the many more additional months that account for the time it takes to file the appeal brief, wait for an Examiner’s Answer, and file a Reply Brief, if applicable. Assuming that these steps that precede the appeal forward take less than a year, these data show that for even the slowest tech centers (or most busy with the number of appeals), the total appeal time for most applications will be under three years total.

These backlog reductions at the PTAB in only one year’s time are significant. Compared with data from FY2013 (before the AIA was even enacted), current pendency is significantly lower in every tech center. See below graph from FY2013.

2013

The PTAB shows no signs of slowing the reduction in the backlog. We will continue to monitor whether the backlog continues to decline.

In conclusion, the most recent USPTO statistics show that an appeal can relatively speedily get resolved (less than two years from notice of appeal in certain technology centers). So rather than filing one or more RCEs with further amendments, an applicant could consider an appeal for potentially a broader claim set. As we’ve previously discussed, if successful, the applicant gets the patent term adjustment back in the form of C-delay. Sometimes, it pays to be patient.

 

 

PTAB: Protein modeling software claims are patent-eligible, arguing preemption

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It has been over a year since the Federal Circuit decided McRO v. Namco Bandai. In short, McRO decided that software models can be patent-eligible. This long-awaited case sent ripples of hope to many in the patent bar, especially to those reeling from the confusion and unpredictability of Alice decided two years prior. But the McRO message has still not made its way to all examiners, especially in the life sciences. Fortunately, the PTAB sees fit to correct and overturn such examiners, as shown in a recent case Ex parte Ohrn, Appeal No. 2017-003914 (PTAB Nov. 20, 2017).

In Ex parte Ohrn, the Examiner had argued that the claims simply used a computer as a tool, i.e., “converting one form of numerical representation into another by organizing information through mathematical concepts,” and were thus an abstract idea. In addition to holding that this was an overgeneralization of the claims, the Board used three main arguments to counter this assertion.

First, the Board found that the exact manner in which the modeling was implemented was novel, and thus the Examiner failed to provide evidence that the computer was used simply as a tool for generic activity. The Board found that the “claimed method uses a combined order of specific rules that render information into a specific format that is then used and applied to create desired results.”

Second, the specific, claimed features of rules permit the improvement realized by the invention. Claim 1 focused on a specific articulated improvement in protein modeling instead of a result of an abstract idea itself.

Third, the Board found the preemption argument persuasive that the specific method recited in the claims did not improperly monopolize the basic tools of scientific and technological work. It cited fairly specific characterizations made by the appellant of what the claims do not cover.

While the preemption argument can be a strong one, the savvy patent practitioner will tell you that this argument is not without consequence. For purposes of prosecution history estoppel, characterizations made on the record as to what the claimed invention does not cover greatly weakens or even destroys such equivalence coverage in litigation. But a granted patent narrowed by such prosecution history estoppel can be better than an application where the argument was not used, leading to an abandoned application. That being said, the preemption argument can be a double-edged sword.

Does appealing a patent application lead to a more valuable patent?

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The savvy patent practitioner will tell you that it is difficult to predict which type of patent will be really valuable, so it is best to draft and prosecute every application with utmost care, as if it were the most valuable. But budgets for many patent applications, especially defensive applications for companies amassing patent arsenals, have been capped and fixed. With these incentives, often times applicants end up pursuing a strategy that sacrifices valuable claims for a quick Notice of Allowance.

Such a tradeoff may very well be justified, but do some prosecution strategies preserve high value while balancing other competing factors? Here, we propose that appeals may be such a strategy that can result in a higher-valued eventual patent.

A recent paper noted that going through the USPTO appeals process during examination is associated with a nearly 50-percent increase in the odds that the resulting patent will be litigated. See Alan C. Marco and Richard D. Miller, “Patent Examination Quality and Litigation: Is There a Link?”, available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2995698 (June 2017). This is important because it is well known that patents that are litigated are more valuable. (Cooter and Rubinfeld, 1989; Lanjouw and Schankerman, 1997; Lerner 2008). Why might appealing an application lead to a more valuable patent? We discuss three possible explanations.

Appealed claims lead to broader claims?
A first explanation relates to the breadth of the patent claims and the incentives for the patent being pursued. While difficult to empirically prove, it is expected that patents with broader claim scope are more likely to be litigated (Lanjouw and Schankerman, 1997). Appealing an application to allowance could result in broader claims than pursuing rounds of narrowing claim amendments because it is possible that some claim amendments that the examiner asserts are needed in fact are not needed by the Board to get an allowed case.

When a patent is being planned to be used (especially offensively), having this breadth can be a critical reason for having the patent at all. And one important way that such breadth can be preserved is by fighting for it through an appeal rather than settling for claim amendments.

Board stamp of approval means less likely invalid patent?
An explanation proposed by Marco and Miller is that an eventual patent is more valuable as a direct result of appealing. Under this theory, by virtue of the PTAB judges scrutinizing the patent application during prosecution, the later patentee is emboldened in thinking that the patent is much less likely to be invalidated by the courts.

This explanation is possible, especially because PTAB judges are technically- and legally-trained and could very well serve as a strengthener of patent applications. However, it seems simplistic to think that just because the PTAB has reviewed a particular set of rejections being appealed, that the patent is somehow protected–especially as many judges only decide the merits of the appealed rejection. Further research investigating this theory is needed.

Correlation not causation?
A third explanation relates to higher value patents merely being correlated with the appeal process. Here, applicants with higher value applications may happen to pursue appeals as a strategy more often than other applicants. This may be due to exhausting other prosecution procedures and resorting to appealing as a last resort. Or it could be due to applicants with high value inventions having counsel that is more sophisticated and more likely to propose and succeed on appeal.

If a valuable patent is on the menu, do not discount appealing rejections in the prosecution of your application. You may find that you don’t have to go for the Examiner’s head-fake all the time. Instead, you might get better claims.