Is the Fed Cir. Opening the Door to Broader Patent Eligibility?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two summers ago, a unanimous Supreme Court struck down patent protection for a computerized method of reducing "settlement risk" in financial transactions. Since that case, Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, IP attorneys and courts alike have struggled with how to treat software, computerized business methods.

But, the Federal Circuit's recent Enfish ruling may provide some guidance, opening the door to broader patent eligibility for inventions that might otherwise have been rejected for being abstract.

Getting Around Alice With Enfish?

As Audrey Oqurchak and Gene Quinn explain on IP Watchdog, Enfish v. Microsoft is the second time since Alice the Federal Circuit has struck down a district court decision that found patent ineligibility because an invention was abstract. While Alice affirmed the status quo -- that abstract business ideas executed through computerized means are patent ineligible -- Enfish may show that not all abstract, computerized processes are outside the scope of the Patent Act.

Enfish itself concerned a patent for a "self-referential" database. Enfish had patented a "logical model for a computer database," a patent that Enfish argued Microsoft was infringing. Such a "logical model" is "a model of data for a computer database explaining how the various elements of information are related to one another."

The district court initially tossed Enfish's suit, ruling that the mode was too abstract to be patent protected. On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit found that the patent's claim, as Oqurchak and Quinn put it, was "not one where general-purpose computer components are added to a fundamental economic practice or mathematical equation, but rather, are directed to the software arts."

Under that logic, the key to surviving a challenge to patentability could be to focus on how an invention's combination of methods provides significant improvements.

Of course, not everyone has come to similar results as the Federal Circuit. As Oqurchak and Quinn point out, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found a similar invention patent-ineligible, just days before the Federal Circuit released its Enfish opinion. Whether Enfish will lead to a reconsideration of that a reconsideration of similar cases remains to be seen.

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