In re Stanford: Ruined by a Processor and a Memory

“The Federal Circuit’s focus on an aspect of the Stanford application which no one could (or did) argue was a protectable innovation not only damaged Stanford, it also squandered an opportunity to bring clarity to an area of law that desperately needs it.”

Computer boilerplate – such as including “a processor and a memory” in claims – is commonplace in patent applications. However, the recent case of In re Stanford shows that this can be a double-edged sword, having the potential to both undermine an application and to ruin an opinion that could otherwise have shed light on several of the thorniest open questions in patent eligibility jurisprudence. Skeptical that such a common practice could be so counterproductive? Read on.

Language with No Benefit

From the outset, the invention in Stanford is not one where computer components should have had any particular significance. The invention was not a new type of computer, or a new component, such as an innovative processor or memory. Instead, it was (at least according to Stanford) a significant advance in the field of genomics. Many types of analysis required for genome interpretation are dependent on haplotype phasing – i.e., determining whether a gene was inherited from a person’s father or mother. The Stanford invention used a particular type of model with particular states – a hidden Markov model with inheritance, compression fixed error, and MIE-rich fixed error states – to perform haplotype phasing. This significantly increased the resolution of haplotype phasing, moving from 80% in the prior art to 97.9% for phasing using the Stanford invention.

Despite the fact that the Stanford invention was not, and did not purport to be, an improved or a novel computer, both the claims and description of the Stanford application included computer components. The description explained that “the present invention relates to methods, techniques, and algorithms that are intended to be implemented in a digital computer system” (application 13/445,925, paragraph 56), before saying that “such a digital computer or embedded device is well-known in the art” (id.) and providing a description of a generic computer system that is repeated in a variety of other Stanford patents and applications (e.g., U.S. 8,966,413, U.S. 2013/0073329). The claims included similar generic computer language, with limitations requiring various steps of the innovative haplotype phasing method to be performed “on a computer system comprising a processor and a memory” or “using a computer system comprising a processor and a memory” being added to the claims in response to a rejection under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

From Ineffective to Detrimental

Stanford does not appear to have benefitted from the generic computer language in their application and, to the extent that language had any impact at all, the impact appears to have been negative. The addition of computer language to the claims did not convince the examiner to withdraw the 101 rejections. Instead, the examiner stated that “[t]here is no limitation in the claims that the claimed computer program or computer uses other than a generic computer,” maintained the rejection and made the successive office action final. (Office Action of 7-9-2015 on application 13/445,925). On appeal, the computer language appears to have gone from having no effect to being actively detrimental. The patent trial and appeal board explicitly referenced the application’s generic computer system description when explaining that “the claimed method does not teach a technical improvement in a computer processor, but rather use the computer as a tool to improve data analysis.” (Ex parte Dewey, Appeal No. 2018-005489, on application 13/445,925 (PTAB 2019) at 11). Similarly, the Federal Circuit specifically noted the claims’ recitation of a “processor” and a “memory” in support of its statement that “it is hard to imagine a patent than that recites hardware limitations in more generic terms than the terms employed in claim 1.” (In re Stanford, Case No. 20-1012 (Fed. Cir. 2021) at 11). Unsurprisingly, the attention paid to aspects of its application which were admittedly not innovative did not bode well for Stanford, and its appeals were unsuccessful at both the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and the Federal Circuit.

A Missed Opportunity for Clarity 

The attention paid to the non-innovative aspects of Stanford’s technology also made the Federal Circuit’s opinion much less useful in terms of clarifying the proper application of section 101. Looking purely at the law, it would have been reasonable to expect the Federal Circuit to have found the Stanford claims eligible. In McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America, Inc., the Federal Circuit had already dealt with the eligibility of a method which used an assertedly innovative computational tool to improve an inherently computerized process, and found that claims which recited the tool with sufficient specificity were not directed to an abstract idea. Additionally, McRO clearly undercut the reasoning used by the PTAB to find the Stanford claims ineligible – i.e., that they recited steps that could be performed in the mind or recited mathematical concepts – since the McRO claims had also recited mathematical concepts (i.e., determining morph weight sets based on phoneme subsequence timing) and improved a process that not only could be, but actually had been performed in the human mind (i.e., synchronizing character and lip models in computer animation). If the Federal Circuit was going to find Stanford’s claims ineligible, it had the opportunity to significantly clarify the rules of subject matter eligibility by clearly distinguishing McRO. It did not. Instead, its only mention of McRO was to note that the PTAB had distinguished that case because the McRO claims “improve ‘the computer animation process itself.’”  In re Stanford, at 6. It then stated that “we are not persuaded that claim 1 is not directed to an abstract mathematical calculation” and “we are not persuaded that the process is an improved technological process.” (id. at 10). No explanation whatsoever was provided for why an improved haplotype phasing process was not “an improved technological process” while an improved computer animation process was. Similarly, no explanation was provided for why Stanford was doomed for reciting mathematical calculations while McRO was not. Indeed, it appears that the most important factor for the Federal Circuit was that the claims recited “a processor and a memory” without purporting to improve them, since it saw fit to explicitly state that:

Notably, claim 1 neither requires nor results in, a specialized computer or a computer with a specialized memory or processor. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a patent claim that recites hardware limitations in more generic terms than the terms employed by claim 1.

Considerations Going Forward

The Federal Circuit’s focus on an aspect of the Stanford application which no one could (or did) argue was a protectable innovation not only damaged Stanford, it also squandered an opportunity to bring clarity to an area of law that desperately needs it. More ominously, it also raised the question of whether the nigh-ubiquitous practice of including form computer language may need to be rethought, since if the Federal Circuit puts so much weight on “a processor and a memory” in claims which recite those terms, maybe it would be better to omit them all together to avoid falling into the trap of having to assert an improvement to the processor and the memory, rather than being able to focus on the actual invention an application is intended to protect.

Originally published on IPWatchdog.

Disclaimer – “The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm, are intended for general informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.”

Office Action Responses | MPEP VS Arguminer | Book VS Practical Guide

“If MPEP is the rule book, Arguminer is the practical guide to how patent prosecutors have applied those rules (and more) to overcome patent rejections.” 

Area of help (Broad)Area of Help (Narrow)USPTO MPEPArguminer
Foundational KnowledgeTeaches legal Rules & ProceduresYesNo
Sample Prosecution ArgumentsYesYes
ApplicationFile Wrapper SearchNoYes
Rejection Specific ArgumentsNoYes
Identifies Successful ResponsesNoYes
StrategyExamples of Examiner BehaviorNoYes

MPEP is Designed for Examiners | Arguminer is Designed for Prosecutors

In general, the MPEP is designed to help examiners examine applications which, in practice, means helping examiners make and maintain rejections. The result of this is that, while the MPEP is broadly accurate, its discussion will often lack nuance and omit information that applicants are likely to find important in responding to rejections. This is not the case with the Arguminer software, since it is designed to help applicants overcome rejections, not to help examiners make them.

For example, if someone had a case where they thought the examiner erred by treating a single prior art structure as covering separate claim elements, they could simply use the Arguminer software to perform a keyword search for “separate elements” to identify a plethora of arguments (with supporting citations) on that precise issue (e.g., running this search quickly, I pulled up the response of 4-28-2017 on application 14/450,321, which provides an extensive list of cases on this issue). Doing the same search in the MPEP would only turn up a single brief mention in the context of functional language as part of a string citation regarding means plus function claims (a type of claim that most applicants try to avoid using in any event).

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Where is MPEP Guidance Lacking?

Because the MPEP is written from the perspective of an examiner rather than an applicant, its guidance is not directed to overcoming rejections. Here are some (but by no means all) areas where the MPEP is lacking:

  • Obviousness
  • Negative Limitations
  • Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

Obviousness

The MPEP downplays the importance of avoiding hindsight, and the rules that are in place to prevent a hindsight reconstruction of the applicant’s invention. Indeed, MPEP 2145(X)(A) specifically provides the following guidance for responding to an applicant who asserts that a conclusion of obviousness is based on impermissible hindsight:

Applicants may argue that the examiner’s conclusion of obviousness is based on improper hindsight reasoning. However, “[a]ny judgment on obviousness is in a sense necessarily a reconstruction based on hindsight reasoning, but so long as it takes into account only knowledge which was within the level of ordinary skill in the art at the time the claimed invention was made and does not include knowledge gleaned only from applicant’s disclosure, such a reconstruction is proper.” In re McLaughlin, 443 F.2d 1392, 1395, 170 USPQ 209, 212 (CCPA 1971). Applicants may also argue that the combination of two or more references is “hindsight” because “express” motivation to combine the references is lacking. However, there is no requirement that an “express, written motivation to combine must appear in prior art references before a finding of obviousness.” See Ruiz v. A.B. Chance Co., 357 F.3d 1270, 1276, 69 USPQ2d 1686, 1690 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

While it is true that there is no requirement for an express, written motivation to combine references, the patent trial and appeal board has explained that “[t]o preclude hindsight in an obviousness analysis, the Examiner must identify evidence ‘in the form of some teaching, suggestion, or even mere motivation (conceivably found within the knowledge of an ordinarily skilled artisan) to make the variation or combination.’”  Ex Parte Kageyama, Appeal No. 2020-002742 on application 15/810,275 (PTAB, 2021), quoting Rolls-Royce, PLC v. United Techs Corp., 603 F.3d 1325, 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2010).

Similarly, while the MPEP lists various arguments an applicant may make with respect to obviousness (often for the purpose of providing guidance on rejecting those arguments), the listing provided by the MPEP is by no means comprehensive. For example, the MPEP does not mention that when a primary reference teaches a solution to a problem, solving that problem cannot be relied on as the reason for modifying the primary reference using the teachings of a secondary reference, something the PTAB made clear in Ex Parte Allen, Appeal No. 2018-008208 on application 14/712,101 (PTAB, 2020).

Negative limitations 

The MPEP (section 2175.05(i)) correctly notes that “Any negative limitation or exclusionary proviso must have basis in the original disclosure.” However, the only example given in the MPEP of how a disclosure can support a negative limitation is that “[i]f alternative elements are positively recited in the specification, they may be explicitly excluded in the claims.” While it is not inaccurate to say that disclosure of alternative elements can provide support for a negative limitation, someone relying on the MPEP would be unlikely to realize that it is possible to support a negative limitation even without disclosure of alternative elements.  E.g., Santarus, Inc. v. Par Pharmaceutical, Inc., 694 F.3d 1344, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (“Negative claim limitations are adequately supported when the specification describes a reason to exclude the relevant limitation.”). 

Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

The MPEP accurately states the rule that during patent examination, the pending claims must be given their broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification. However, while it does provide some examples of scenarios where interpretive issues may arise (e.g., effect of various transitional phrases, wherein clauses), like the examples of arguments that can be made in response to an obviousness rejection, the information in the MPEP is in no way complete.

For example, one issue which an applicant may want to be aware of is whether it is proper to treat separate limitations in the claim as being physically separate structures. However, the MPEP’s treatment of the broadest reasonable interpretation rule does not include any indication that interpreting separate elements as not requiring separate structures is something examiners have repeatedly been reversed for.  E.g., Ex Parte Moore, Appeal No. 2020-004805 on Application 15/423,780 (PTAB 2021) (“We agree with Appellant. We find that under the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claim, one of ordinary skill in the art would not consider the telescoping rod 34b to be part of the base.”); Ex Parte Denison, Appeal No. 2009-004110 on application 10/158,362 (BPAI, 2010) (“we note that it is not reasonable to rely on the same structure depicted at the interconnection of Berry’s stent segments to meet both of the limitations requiring a ‘double-curved shaped portion’ and a ‘Y-shaped portion.’”).

Conclusion

Using arguments from the MPEP to respond to office actions may be an effective strategy for some rejections. But determining whether the MPEP contains effective arguments for any given grounds  of rejection is highly inefficient. This inefficiency is not accidental. Rather, it comes from the nature of the MPEP. The MPEP was not written from the perspective of a patent prosecutor responding to office actions. As a result, MPEP provides only a few effective arguments and no effective way to find them.

This is not the case with a tool like Arguminer which was specifically developed to assist in identifying effective and, more importantly, successful arguments for responding to office actions. To learn more about the power of Arguminer to help you find and make effective arguments, contact us.

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Three Steps To Achieve Effective Delegation | The Gamechangers

If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”  

– John C. Maxwell

Do you ever feel as if your to-do list is never-ending or you are always short of time? In a survey conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), it was revealed that 46% of companies have a high level of concern about their workers’ delegation skills. Delegation of work takes a great deal of unlearning, particularly if you are of the habit of doing everything yourself. You will need to let go of the adage, “If you want something done right, you must do it yourself.”

At some point in your career, you will undoubtedly have achieved enough experience in your practice to have younger attorneys working under your guidance. When the time comes, you will have to learn a whole new set of skills to pass on the torch in a way that is productive both for them and for you. Delegation of work might not be easy but when done well it has tremendous value both in maximizing the limited hours you have available in a day and in allowing younger attorneys you might be assigning tasks to to learn the tricks of the trade.

As challenging as delegation can be, these three steps will help you delegate effectively:

  1. Delegate everything you can
  2. Recognize the things that can’t be delegated
  3. Change your ‘cannots’ into ‘cans’

#1. Delegate Everything You Can

Try to delegate every task which can be delegated to your team. If you don’t delegate, you’ll always be overburdened, putting you at risk of missed deadlines and slippages in work.

Once you start delegating, you’ll soon realize that it:

  • Reduces your mental load
  • Saves time
  • Improves client relations

For example, you don’t need to deal with invoice disputes yourself. If your client thinks that your billing hours are too high, let one of your (less senior) team members tackle the situation.

The delegation will have the added benefit of freeing up your mind and time to better handle the more important tasks on your plate, resulting in a job well done.

#2. Recognize the Things That Can’t be Delegated

You need to know what you can and cannot delegate. If you are anything like me, you won’t let anything get out of the door on your project, unless you are completely comfortable with it. If you delegate work to a team member who cannot handle the particular task, you’ll end up doing it yourself, which is an inefficient use of everybody’s time. Often, the task will end up getting done twice, as it is easier to redo something from scratch than to fix somebody else’s shoddy job.

To avoid this situation, you need to recognize which tasks can be delegated to your team and which you have to handle yourself. While there will always be some level of rework when delegating tasks, especially when you are training someone, it is important to consider the strengths of your team members when making assignments. You don’t want to delegate a task that your team member might still be too inexperienced to handle. Thus, the key is to delegate all you can, but to also recognize what you cannot delegate.

IP Toolworks Demo

#3. Change Your ‘Cannots’ Into ‘Cans’ 

The final step to effective delegation involves a special alchemy: transforming your ‘cannots’ into ‘cans’. To achieve this, a few things are essential:

Recognize the Strengths of Your Team Members

Knowing the strengths and abilities of your team members is key. For example, one colleague might be good at drafting patent applications, while another might be good at analyzing office actions in order to draft a meticulous response. Acknowledging these strengths will make your job reviewing their work easier and faster. Everyone wants their team to do a spectacular job—because, let’s be honest, at the end of the day, you are still accountable for the work done by your team. Therefore, learning what to delegate to whom is an art, which you need to master as a leader.

Train Your Team Members to Overcome Weaknesses

You also need to recognize the areas where your your team members might be less capable. Once these areas are identified, training can be provided to turn weaknesses into strengths. It is essential to build support for people working on the tasks you assign. For example, you might provide a library of template communications, to give your team members examples of how to respond to a particular kind of communication from the USPTO. This will make it much easier for a newer attorney to put together the expected response.

Provide The Right Kind Of Support At The Right Time

Make sure that while delegating, you provide your team members with the support they need when they need it. For example, if you have tasked a colleague with analyzing an office action and drafting a response, you must explain what to look for and how issues can be tackled. You might want to point out key areas to focus on and refer them to your library of office action responses for additional guidance.

As a matter of habit, during the last fifteen years of my career, I put together a document containing examples of successful office action responses, to help with future responses. It was, in effect, a small library of office action responses that I could use in my own practice and share with colleagues I might be assigning work to. Eventually, I thought, why not build a library of office action responses that encompasses the work of other attorneys as well? This is when I put together the Arguminer software. It allows you to upload your office action and will analyze various parameters within it to match it with relevant responses other attorneys filed. It looks something like this:

You can customize the results by selecting different parameters, such as successful responses to office actions by the same examiner. You might want to show your team member the arguments used in similar office responses, which will have higher chances of succeeding.

Getting a younger attorney to get the same results as you would, is good delegation, which is exactly what this software helps to achieve.

Takeaway:

The more you delegate, the more trust you place in your team members. It boosts their confidence, helps in improving the overall team effort, and gives you time to focus on more important tasks.

Practicing good delegation also gives you a breather to concentrate on the things that are important to you. This is a special category of “non-delegable duties” that for me includes making time each night to spend with my one-year-old daughter before bed. There are some things I don’t assign out, even on my busiest days.

 I believe that the more you can outsource, automate and delegate out, the more time you have for your family and loved ones.

Good luck! I hope you can put Arguminer to use, to effectively delegate and train the young attorneys working with you. 

Disclaimer – “The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm, are intended for general informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.”

Protecting Oligonucleotides and Antibodies: 3 Proven Arguments to Overcome §101 Rejections in Molecular Biology

Patent lawyers love the overused quote from Diamond v. Chakrabarty, “everything under the sun invented by man.” Forty years later, this remains good law in most situations. However, Mayo v. Prometheus and AMP v. Myriad Genetics went on to make clear that not everything under the sun is patentable when it comes to biology. Most recently, Alice, and the associated 2019 PEG have come to dominate how examiners and attorneys approach subject matter eligibility arguments, even when it comes to inventions within the life sciences.

Even with the most conscientious claim drafting, rejections under §101 are not unlikely when the claimed subject matter centers on organic molecules or other “products of nature.” Given the dynamic state of legal arguments in this field, it can be particularly helpful to look at successful responses prepared by other attorneys facing similar rejections.

If you are dealing with §101 rejections involving molecular biology, or other technology classes where “natural phenomena” are frequently cited, you may want to consider taking a prong, (or better, two), from the winning arguments we’ve selected,  below:

Molecules Created Through Human Efforts Can Lay a Path

If the subject matter is artificial, it does not fall under a judicially-created exception to §101 and, therefore, constitutes patent-eligible subject matter.

In biology cases, the examiners typically rely on the “natural phenomena” judicial exception in their §101 rejections. The Patent Office does not want to be responsible for issuing a patent on a biological matter that occurs naturally. This would potentially turn every living organism into an infringer.

To overcome this rejection under the Alice test and the 2019 examination guidelines, you must show the subject matter does not fall into the “natural phenomena” category or the claims include substantially more than a natural phenomenon. Where the claimed subject matter is artificial and the hand of an engineer or scientist is needed to produce it, the invention is legitimately the product of human ingenuity and human effort must be made to infringe the claims.

This argument succeeded in an application for a “Vesicular Linker and Uses Thereof in Nucleic Acid Library Construction and Sequencing” This case was filed in 2017 and issued in 2020.

The examiner issued a rejection under §101 citing the judicial exception for “natural phenomena.” In response, the applicant amended the claims to clarify the claimed kit did not contain a naturally occurring molecule, but rather an engineered product.

With respect to claim 3 as currently amended, the claim now recites “a first primer, having the same sequence as at least a portion of the first strand of the vesicular non-paired region of the oligonucleotide vesicular adaptor” and “a second primer, specifically paring with the second strand of the vesicular non-paired region of the oligonucleotide vesicular adaptor”. Thus, it would be appreciated by the one skilled in the art that the structures of the first primer and the second primer tightly depend on the oligonucleotide vesicular adaptor which is not a naturally occurring product and is instead is a novel and non-obvious presentation for constructing a nucleic acid library and of which specific nucleotide sequences are artificially selected in accordance with actual needs.

Specifically, the claims recited an oligonucleotide vesicular adaptor that connected to a first primer at one location and a second primer at another location. The first primer and second primer are molecules that can occur in nature. But the applicant argued the claimed kit was not a natural phenomenon for two reasons.

  1. The oligonucleotide vesicular adaptor does not occur naturally. Rather, the inventors developed this molecule.
  2. Although the molecules that make up the first primer and second primer occur in nature, a scientist must select and artificially design the first primer and second primer claimed in the application based on the application of the invention. As a result, the primers were not randomly assembled, as would occur in nature, but deliberately created, as would occur in an engineered molecule.

The examiner found these claim elements established that the claimed molecule could not occur naturally. The examiner withdrew the §101 rejection and allowed the claims.

The lesson drawn from this case is that your claims can include molecules that may occur in nature. But make sure that your claims either include non-natural molecules with them or make clear that the molecules are not the naturally occurring variety.

Kudos to Z. Peter Sawicki from Westman, Champlin & Koehler for exemplary work in drafting winning office action responses!

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A Combination of Humanized and Natural Molecules Can Save the Day

This argument is a close corollary of the first argument. If the subject matter contains molecules that are arguably naturally occurring, you may be able to argue that the combination cannot occur in nature. This moves you out of the judicial exceptions for “products of nature” and “natural phenomena” and allows you to escape the second prong of the Alice test.

Avoiding Alice’s second prong can substantially improve your chances of allowance. The test’s second prong, which asks whether the invention includes substantially more than the ineligible subject matter, is highly subjective. Therefore, qualifying under the first prong should be your first, strongest, and best thought-out argument.

This argument was used in an application for “Humanized Antibodies” This application was filed in 2016 and issued in 2020. Prior to allowance, the applicant received a rejection under §101 on the ground that the claimed invention comprised products of nature.

The antibody or antigen-binding fragment thereof of the pending claims exhibit “markedly different characteristics” as compared to a naturally occurring counterpart in at least two ways. First, one of ordinary skill in the art would understand that the non-human donor antibody is itself “man-made” … Second, … the antibody, or antigen-binding fragment thereof of claim 1, and those dependent thereon, is eligible subject matter because it exhibits structurally distinct characteristics as compared to a naturally occurring counterpart by comprising both non-human donor and human donor residues, introduced into the claimed antibody by the “hand of man.”

In response, the applicant amended the claims to clarify that the claimed invention included a humanized antibody from a non-human donor. This gave the applicant three strong arguments in the office action response:

  1. The humanized antibody behaved differently from naturally occurring antibodies. It did not behave like the non-human donor antibody because it had been humanized. And it did not behave like a human antibody because of its non-human donor origins.
  2. The humanized antibody was not naturally occurring because artificial processes were needed to humanize a non-human donor antibody.
  3. The final product, a humanized antibody, could not occur in nature because it contained both human and non-human residues.

The examiner allowed the claims. Although the examiner did not identify which of the arguments ultimately persuaded the examiner to allow the claims, all three of the arguments are powerful.

The lesson to be drawn from this case is that your chances for allowance improve if you can claim and argue for the non-natural creation, structure, and behavior of the claimed molecule.

Kudos to Elizabeth M. Rohlfs from Pfizer Inc for exemplary work in drafting winning office action responses!

A Real-World Application Can Carry You Through

Although you would prefer to satisfy the Alice test’s first prong rather than battling over the more subjective second prong, you should not limit your arguments to the first prong. If an examiner disagrees with your arguments under the first prong, you will need to present something under the second prong to try to satisfy the Alice test.

This occurred in an application for “Predicting the Ability of Atlantic Salmon to Utilize Dietary Pigment Based on the Determination of Polymorphisms” This application was filed in 2016 and allowed in 2020, although it has not yet issued as a patent because the applicant has not paid the issue fee.

The application claimed a process for sequencing the genes of an Atlantic salmon to detect cytosine at a particular location in the gene sequence. The examiner rejected these claims as directed to a natural phenomenon.

[A]lthough nature-based product limitations are recited by claim 15, analysis of the claim as a whole indicates that claim 15 is focused on a process of detecting the presence of a specific nucleic acid sequence in a sample from a salmon, and is not focused on the nature-based product per se. Id. at 11. For example, as amended herein, claim 15 recites, in part:

a) obtaining a nucleic acid sample from a salmon; and

b) assaying the nucleic acid sample to detect a presence of one or more alleles in the nucleic acid sample;

c) detecting the presence of a cytosine at position 36 in SEQ ID NO: 14.

In response the applicant amended the claims and presented two arguments:

  1. Under the first prong of the Alice test, the applicant argued that the claims were not directed to a natural phenomenon. Specifically, the applicant pointed out that the process of obtaining a DNA sample from the fish, sequencing it, and looking for a particular gene was an artificial process even though it worked on a naturally occurring molecule. As stated by the applicant, the claims were focused on the process of detecting the naturally occurring product and not the naturally occurring product per se.
  2. Under the second prong of the Alice test, the applicant argued that the claims were not merely directed to detecting the naturally occurring product. Instead, the results of the process were used to guide the selective breeding of the fish tested so that the desired characteristic was passed to the offspring. Thus, the claims recited “substantially more” than the process of detecting the naturally occurring product. Specifically, the test results had a real-world use in improving fish husbandry.

The examiner allowed the claims. But the examiner did not identify which of these arguments was found persuasive.

The takeaway from this case is that you should always present arguments on both prongs of the Alice test. In this case, while each argument was powerful independently. the applicant took measures to avoid prolonged prosecution, by presenting both sets of arguments in the office action response.

Kudos to Bradley W. Thomas from Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP for exemplary work in drafting winning office action responses!

Overcoming §101 Rejections in Molecular Biology Cases

Although some patent practitioners might view Chakrabarty as dated, the “made by man” phrase remains one of the most powerful arguments you have to secure allowance of artificially-created biological inventions.

But you should not limit yourself to “hand of man” arguments. The chances for allowance increase as you present more ways that the claimed molecule differs from its natural counterparts. Look for specific differences in structure and behavior between the claimed molecule and naturally occurring molecules and recite these differences in the claims.

Finally, do not ignore the second prong of the Alice test. Even if you feel optimistic about your arguments that the claims do not embody a natural phenomenon or a product of nature, an examiner might disagree. As a result, you should also present arguments that the claimed invention includes substantially more than a natural phenomenon or product of nature. You can do this by reciting in the claims a real-world application for the invention.

These arguments were found using Arguminer. Visit IP Toolworks to learn more about using Arguminer to find proven arguments for your office action responses.

Disclaimer – “The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm, are intended for general informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.”

5 Tips to Having a Good Patent Examiner Interview

Interviewing with the patent examiner can provide many benefits to your clients. Oral communication is much more efficient than written communication. As a result, you can often cover more ground in a 30-minute interview than you can in months of prosecution.

Moreover, during a patent examiner interview, you get immediate feedback from the examiner. Listening to this feedback will help you hone your arguments on the fly. You can throw out arguments that have no traction with examiners while focusing on those that appeal to them.

You can also get a better feel for the examiner’s concerns. The MPEP gives examiners form paragraphs to use in office actions. These often do not illuminate the examiner’s specific problems with the invention or the claim language. Through careful questioning and active listening, you and the examiner can focus on the exact problems at issue in the office action.

Your conversation with the examiner might also yield information you might not otherwise obtain. For example, you might discover that the examiner misunderstood your claims or misinterpreted the prior art, which you could then work to clarify. Alternatively , the interview might reveal that the examiner had  a clear understanding of your claims and the prior art, but is unwilling to budge from his or her position no matter what arguments you present. You would go on to address these different outcomes through two very different courses of action. You can determine whether further prosecution before the examiner is worthwhile or appeal is necessary simply by talking to the examiner.

Every patent attorney uses a different strategy for conducting examiner interviews. Here is a countdown of five tips to consider as you develop your interview strategy.

Tip #5: Figure Out What You’re Going to Say

When you draft an office action response, you spend time sharpening your amendments and arguments. You should take the same approach when you prepare for a patent examiner interview.

Examiners will usually only grant one interview, so you should not waste your opportunity. More importantly, under the MPEP, interviews for “sounding out” the examiner are prohibited. When you and your client discuss the possibility of interviewing the case, you should have specific issues you want to discuss with the examiner and a clear goal.

You may have heard or read anecdotes about patent lawyers who get good outcomes while improvising during interviews. This strategy is probably not the best use of your time, the examiner’s time, and your client’s resources. Instead, have a game plan for what you will say and how you will say it.

Tip #4: Get the Right People in the Interview

There is nothing more frustrating than preparing your amendments, arguing your case to the patent examiner during an interview and reaching an agreement with the patent examiner about the amendments, only to have the examiner pull the rug from under you with another office action. Or, worse yet, to come out of an interview agreeing with the examiner, only to have your client overrule it.

Such misunderstandings happen because the interview lacked the people critical to the decision-making process.

On the patent office side, the necessity of on-the-job training for new examiners results in layers of checks. At a minimum, you should politely inquire if a primary examiner should attend the interview when you schedule it. Just beware that some examiners might take offense, so approach delicately.

On your side, you must make a prudent and deliberate decision whether to include the inventor and a representative for your client (if the inventor is not your client). Some advantages of having the inventor and client include:

  • Someone on your side can immediately approve the examiner’s amendments
  • Your client hears what happened rather than receiving a summary from you
  • The inventor can explain the invention and the prior art
  • Your client feels involved

Conversely, having your client in the interview poses some risks, including:

  • Your client can inadvertently make admissions adverse to your case
  • The inventor might take the examiner’s rejections personally, and tensions may rise
  • The client might waste your interview time talking about irrelevant issues

Having the right people in the interview on both sides can facilitate an agreement, but only if they can work collaboratively and not start a confrontation. Remember that a patent examiner interview is not an adversarial process. If the inventor and client attend, make sure they understand that persuasion, not confrontation, during the interview will likely be the easiest path to allowance.

Tip #3: Make an Agenda

The interview request form and patent examiner interview best practices suggest that you identify the issues you want to discuss during the interview. You should consider going beyond this by creating an agenda to will lay out each topic you wish to discuss with the examiner.

Many examiners ask for an agenda when you schedule the interview. You could share your complete agenda with the examiner, or keep your detailed agenda for yourself and instead provide an outline.

In either case, providing the patent examiner with an agenda will help you in a few ways:

  • The examiner has a roadmap, so you can move from issue to issue efficiently
  • You make sure you cover all the points you want to raise without leaving anything out
  • The examiner has a preview of your interview topics, allowing them to  prepare to respond to, or even concede specific points, so that the interview proceeds more smoothly

When you create your agenda, you should also consider including proposed amendments, as this will give the examiner something concrete to consider. Rather than talking in abstractions about the claims, you can point to specific proposed language for discussion. Providing the examiner with your proposed revisions further demonstrates your willingness to work with him or her to reach allowance, and invites the examiner to propose language as well.

The last two points on your agenda can then consist of:

  1. A discussion about whether the proposed amendments will result in an allowance of the case. This is also an opportunity to record proposed amendments that could lead to allowance.
  2. A discussion of whether there are any additional issues, arguments, or amendments to be addressed 

Remember, examiners work with hundreds of cases and thousands of claims every year. Diligent examiners often have suggestions that not only help you secure allowance, but improve your patent application.

You should approach the interview as a two-way communication rather than simply your opportunity to present your case to the examiner. In at least some cases, the examiner will help you on your path to allowance. Most importantly, when an examiner makes a suggestion, and you incorporate it into the claims, the examiner is much more likely to agree that your amendment moves the case forward.

Tip #2: Begin Conceptually

At the beginning of your patent examiner interview, try to identify the broad issues in the office action. One way to do this is to have a conceptual discussion about the prior art and the invention.

Summarize your understanding of the prior art and see if the examiner’s understanding matches. If the examiner has a different interpretation of the prior art, you may be able to address at least some grounds for rejection by persuading the examiner of your interpretation.

Keep in mind that because examiners have an enormous workload, they may not always have your client’s invention clear in their heads when you start an interview. Discussing the concept behind the invention can help get the examiner in the right mindset for the rest of the interview.

Tip #1: Close Concretely

Have a goal in mind before you start the interview. Try to close in a way that makes clear whether you reached your goal. Remember, closing concretely does not necessarily mean that you always win. Rather, it means that when you close, you know whether you reached an agreement and, which direction you and your client should go, if you have not.

For example, imagine  you have a prior art rejection under §102 that you believe your proposed amendments should successfully overcome. Several outcomes are in fact possible at the end of the interview:

  • The examiner agrees that your amendments overcome the rejection.
  • The examiner agrees the invention is distinguishable but disagrees that your amended claims distinguish over the reference.
  • The examiner agrees your amendments overcome a §102 rejection but switches to a §103 rejection.
  • The examiner believes the invention is not novel given the prior art. No claim amendments can overcome the rejection.

Each of these outcomes is acceptable. You know where you stand with the examiner, and you can advise your client about what to do next.

What you want to avoid is ending the interview without a clear understanding of where the case stands. It may take some cajoling to pin the examiner down, but try to reach a concrete conclusion.

A “Good” Patent Examiner Interview

A good interview moves your case forward. That movement could be an agreement or just a better understanding of where your case stands. You can use interviews to benefit your clients and keep their cases progressing by:

  • having a plan 
  • getting the right people in the interview 
  • following an agenda
  • opening conceptually
  • closing concretely 

Keep leveling up your patent prosecution practice! Take a look at 3 Obvious Mistakes to Avoid when Responding to Office Actions!

Disclaimer – “The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm, are intended for general informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.”