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PTO Provides Guidance for Computer-Related Design Patent Applications

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) published a notice regarding supplemental guidance for PTO personnel examining design patent claims containing computer-generated images. 88 Fed. Reg. 80277 (Nov. 17, 2023).

The guidance clarifies how to satisfy the article of manufacture requirement under 35 U.S.C. 171 for ornamental designs relating to computer-generated icons shown on a display panel, as discussed in Section 1505.01(a)(I) of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP). According to the guidance, “the mere display of a computer-generated electronic image . . . on a display panel does not constitute statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 171.” However, a computer icon or a graphical user interface (GUI) shown on a display panel (e.g., a computer screen, monitor, computer display system, mobile phone screen or virtual/augmented reality goggles) is more than a mere display of a picture on a screen because it constitutes an integral and active component in the operation that is embodied in and/or applied to a programmed computer displaying the computer icon or the GUI. Thus, if a computer icon or GUI is properly presented and claimed (e.g., the drawing fully discloses the design as embodied in the article of manufacture), it is eligible under 35 U.S.C. 171.

In addressing the foregoing distinctions, the guidance sets forth specific standards for PTO personnel, including consideration of the complete disclosure when evaluating whether a design claim containing a computer-generated electronic image complies with the article of manufacture requirement. For example, given that computer icons or GUIs are considered to be two-dimensional images, which standing alone are surface ornamentation (i.e., an ornament, impression, print or picture), the guidance stipulates that the title and the claim should not be for a computer icon or a GUI alone, but rather an article of manufacture, such as a “display panel with a computer icon.” The guidance further provides examples of acceptable claim language and specific examination scenarios for evaluation.




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USPTO Clarifies Practice for Reviving Unintentionally Abandoned Patent Applications and Patents

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a Notice clarifying its practice as to situations that will require additional information about whether a delay in seeking the revival of an abandoned application, acceptance of a delayed maintenance fee payment, or acceptance of a delayed priority or benefit claim was unintentional. 85 FED. REG. 12222 (Mar. 2, 2020).

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Patent Thicket Avoidance: PTO Proposes Changes to Terminal Disclaimer Practice

On May 10, 2024, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (Notice) concerning major changes to the terminal disclaimer (TD) practice, which may lead to a sea change in patent prosecution strategies. The proposed change would require a TD to include an agreement from the patent owner that the patent will be unenforceable if it’s tied directly or indirectly to another patent having any patent claim invalidated or canceled based on prior art. 89 Fed. Reg. 40439 (May 10, 2024).

The rule change is a potential boon for patent challengers and is intended to promote innovation and competition by allowing a competitor to avoid enforcement of patents tied by TDs to patents with claims finally held unpatentable or invalid. Under current practice, invalidation of a patent tied to another patent by a TD does not directly affect the patentability of the other patent. Under the new rule, a competitor could target a single patent in a validity dispute in a post-grant challenge without the need to seek review and invalidation of other related patents. As a result, invalidating one claim in a patent tied to other patents by TDs would render all other tied patents unenforceable.

According to the Notice, the proposed change aligns with the US government’s intent to reduce drug costs and promote competition by reducing barriers to market entry in accordance with President Biden’s Executive Order 14036 on “Promoting Competition in the American Economy.” Part of the reduced costs are said to come from bringing down the cost of challenging large “patent thickets” of multiple patents covering a single product or minor variations of the product tied by TDs.

The proposed rule change would represent a paradigm shift for TD practice. Current TD practice under 37 CFR 1.321(c) or (d) allows applicants to file multiple patents with claims varying in only minor ways from one another by filing TDs to obviate obviousness-type double patenting (ODP) rejections over closely related patent claims issued or pending in applications commonly owned or commonly owned on the basis of a joint research agreement. In filing a TD, the applicant agrees to disclaim any patent term extending beyond the term of the prior patent having similar patent claims.

The proposed rule seeks “to revise 37 CFR 1.321 (c) and (d) to require that a terminal disclaimer filed to obviate nonstatutory double patenting include an agreement by the disclaimant that the subject patent or any patent granted on the subject application shall be enforceable only if the patent is not tied and has never been tied directly or indirectly to a patent by one or more terminal disclaimers filed to obviate nonstatutory double patenting in which:

(1) any claim has been finally held unpatentable or invalid under 35 U.S.C. 102 or 103 . . . by a Federal court in a civil action or by the PTO, and all appeal rights have been exhausted; or

(2) a [...]

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Say What? Recitation Entitled to Patentable Weight When Not “Communicative Content”

Addressing when claimed printed matter is entitled to patentable weight, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s ruling involving the printed matter doctrine, explaining that the claimed subject matter was not communicative content. IOEngine, LLC v. Ingenico Inc., Case No. 21-1227 (Fed. Cir. May 3, 2024) (Lourie, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Financial technology company Ingenico filed three petitions for inter partes review (IPR) of certain claims from three patents owned by IOEngine, all of which shared the same title and written description. The patents, titled “Apparatus, Method and System for a Tunneling Client Access Point,” claimed a “portable device” that was “configured to communicate with a terminal.” The challenged claims recited a memory that contained program code “configured in various ways to facilitate communication … with a communications network node.”

The Board issued final written decisions, which found the challenged claims to be unpatentable for obviousness or anticipation. The Board also found several claims to be anticipated after giving no patentable weight to certain claim recitations by application of the printed matter doctrine. The Board found that the terms “encrypted communications” and “program code” claim “only communicative content” (i.e., printed matter) and that these recitations were not entitled to patentable weight.

The Board concluded that the recitation of “encrypted communications” was subject to the printed matter doctrine because “nothing in the claim … requires anything beyond sending and receiving data, even if the data is in an encrypted form.” Similarly, the Board found that the recitation “program code” was subject to the printed matter doctrine because the “recital of ‘downloading’ of program code was limited to downloading (sending or transmitting) the code, which is a communication, and no other function is recited in the claim.”

IOEngine appealed, arguing that the Board erroneously construed the term “interactive user interface,” erred in its application of the printed matter doctrine, and erred in its anticipation and obviousness analysis.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s claim construction, finding IOEngine had forfeited its proposed construction because it did not present it to the Board during the IPR proceeding. Likewise, the Court affirmed the Board’s unpatentability determination of anticipation and obviousness for those claims where the Board did not invoke the printed matter doctrine.

However, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s determination that the recitations “encrypted communications” and “program code” were entitled to no weight under the printed matter doctrine.

The Federal Circuit explained that courts use a two-step test to determine whether a recitation should be accorded patentable weight under the printed matter doctrine. First, a court should determine “whether the limitation in question is directed toward printed matter.” Under step one, a limitation should be considered printed matter when the limitation “claims the content of information,” meaning that “the matter [is] claimed for what it communicates.” Only if the first step is met should the court proceed to step two. In the second step, the court considers “whether the printed matter nevertheless should be given patentable [...]

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Virtually Done: Computer Visualization Patents Are Ineligible for Protection

Addressing subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that patents related to computer visualizations of medical scans were patent ineligible. AI Visualize, Inc. v. Nuance Communications, Inc., Case No. 22-2019 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 4, 2024) (Moore, Reyna, Hughes, JJ.)

AI Visualize asserted four related patents, each having a substantially similar specification and the same title, against Nuance Communications. The patents are generally directed at systems and methods for users to virtually view a volume visualization dataset (a three-dimensional collection of data representing the scanned area of an MRI) on a computer without having to transmit or locally store the entirety of the dataset.

Nuance moved to dismiss the case, asserting that the claims were directed to patent-ineligible subject matter and invalid under § 101. The district court applied the two-step Alice inquiry to the claims, which the parties had grouped into three representative claims:

  • Claims where a web application directs the server to check what frames of a virtual view are stored locally and creates any additional frames necessary to create and display the virtual view of the medical image.
  • Claims with the further requirement that any previously requested virtual view be given a unique key, which the server checks for (and displays if the key exists) prior to completing the steps of the independent claim.
  • Claims without the requirement of checking to see if any images are stored locally.

In applying part one of Alice, the district court concluded that the asserted claims were directed to the abstract idea of “retrieving user-requested, remotely stored information” and not, as AI Visualize argued, to improvements in computer functionality. The district court then applied Alice step two and considered each of the three representative claims. The district court concluded that none of the claim limitations transformed the claims into patent-eligible applications of an abstract idea. Ultimately, the district court determined that all asserted claims were patent ineligible under § 101. AI Visualize appealed.

The Federal Circuit also applied the Alice analytical framework. Applying Alice step one, the Court considered whether the focus of the claimed advance was on an improvement in computer technologies, rather than the use of computers, and whether the claim limitations described a claimed advance over the prior art. The Court upheld the district court’s finding under Alice step one (i.e., that all three types of asserted claims were directed to an abstract idea) because the steps of obtaining, manipulating and displaying data, when claimed at a high level of generality, constitute an abstract concept. The Court did not agree with AI Visualize’s arguments that the creation of the virtual views is a technical solution to a technical problem because it requires the creation of “on the fly” virtual views at the client computer. In doing so, the Court refused to import details from the specification into the claims.

Applying Alice step two, the Federal Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that [...]

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ITU Applicants Beware: Federal Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Pending Trademark Applications

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part a district court’s ruling in a trademark dispute, upholding its decision to invalidate trademark applications. The Ninth Circuit held that district courts have jurisdiction to alter or cancel trademark applications in an action properly brought under 15 U.S.C. § 1119, and that in the context of challenges to intent-to-use (ITU) applications, proof of a lack of bona fide intent can invalidate. BBK Tobacco & Foods LLP v. Central Coast Agriculture, Inc., Case Nos. 22-16190; -16281 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2024) (Hurwitz, Desai, JJ.) (Bumatay, J., dissenting).

BBK sells and distributes smoking-related products with BBK’s “RAW” branding. Central Coast Agriculture (CCA) sells cannabis products using “Raw Garden” branding. BBK filed a complaint against CCA including claims of trademark infringement and a petition to void several ITU trademark applications owned by CCA for lack of a bona fide intent to use the relevant trademarks in commerce. Instead of disputing the merits of BBK’s claims, CCA argued that the district court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate this issue. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BBK on its claims to invalidate the trademark applications. CCA appealed.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment in favor of BBK on its claims to invalidate CCA’s trademark applications. The Court explained that “when an action involves a claim of infringement on a registered trademark, a district court also has jurisdiction to consider challenges to the trademark application of a party to the action.” The Lanham Act, at 15 U.S.C. § 1119, provides that “[i]n any action involving a registered mark the court may determine the right to registration, order the cancelation of registrations, . . . restore canceled registrations, and otherwise rectify the register with respect to the registrations of any party to the action.” The Lanham Act, at § 1051, defines an application for use of trademark as a “request for registration of a trademark on the principal register.” Because a challenge to an application affects the applicant’s right to the registration, the Court reasoned that § 1119 authorizes a district court to resolve disputes over trademark applications.

The Ninth Circuit held that a “lack of bona fide intent to use a mark in commerce is a valid basis to challenge a trademark application,” aligning with decisions in sister circuits and the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board. An applicant can seek to register a mark if the mark is already being used in commerce or if the applicant has a bona fide intention, under circumstances showing the good faith of such person, to use a trademark in commerce. While applicants filing under the ITU provisions may begin the registration process based on a bona fide intent to later use the mark in commerce, the Lanham Act requires such applicants to either subsequently file a verified statement of actual use of the mark or convert their application into a use application. As a result, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling [...]

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PTO Proposes Trademark Application Filing Changes, Fee Adjustments

On March 26, 2024, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register concerning changes to trademark application filings and fee adjustments in trademark cases for 2025. The PTO solicits written comments from the public on the proposed rule changes on or before May 28, 2024. The proposed rules seek to generate sufficient multiyear revenue for trademark operations in future years based on projections described in the notice.

The changes are recommended to support the PTO’s strategic goals and objectives, including optimizing trademark application pendency through the promotion of efficient operations and filing behaviors, issuing accurate and reliable trademark registrations, and encouraging access to the trademark system for stakeholders.

The proposal seeks to incentivize more complete and timely filings, improve prosecution, adjust 31 trademark fees and impose 12 new fees while discontinuing six existing fees. The proposal also seeks to consolidate the present Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) filing options (i.e., TEAS Plus and TEAS standard) into a single electronic filing option. The single option would include most of the same requirements as TEAS Plus, while eliminating those under TEAS Standard. The new filing framework would discontinue the previous filing fees and fees for failing to meet the requirements of a TEAS Plus application. Similar to TEAS Plus, however, applicants complying with the proposed requirements in their initial filing would pay the lowest fees.

The proposed fee adjustments would:

  • Set the fee for a base application at $350 using the ID Master List (which is $100 more than the current fee for a TEAS Plus application)
  • Discontinue current fees for filing an application under the Madrid Protocol
  • Require surcharge fees between $100 and $200 for applications that are noncompliant with the base filing requirements
  • Require an additional $200 fee per class for the identification of goods and services entered in the free-form text field to incentivize use of the Trademark ID Manual for such identifications instead
  • Require an additional $200 fee for each additional group of 1,000 characters in the free-form text field; identifications directly from the ID Manual would not incur these fees
  • Increase fees by $50 for filing amendments to allege use (AAU) and statements of use (SOU), with fees being discounted $100 for electronic filings
  • Increase post-registration maintenance fees from $50 to $75
  • Increase the letter of protest fee from $50 to $150.

Regarding the proposed fee adjustments, the notice describes changes to 37 CFR 2.6 and 7.6. The notice further describes changes to 37 CFR 2.22 and 2.71 with respect to base application fees and amendments to correct informalities, respectively.

For further details, see the Federal Register notice.




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Senate Holds Hearing on Legislative Initiative to Address Patent Eligibility

Seeking to undo the current jurisprudence “mess” on the issue of patent eligibility, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property heard testimony on January 23, 2024, on the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act (PERA) (text here). PERA seeks to address the uncertainty and unpredictable outcomes created by the 2014 Supreme Court of the United States decision in Alice Corp. Pty. v. CLS Bank Int’l.

PERA is the latest iteration of 35 USC § 101 patent eligibility reform that Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) have been introducing for years. Although the language has been tweaked over time, the bill’s purpose is to eliminate “[a]ll judicial exceptions to patent eligibility” and in their place codify several categories of inventions as unpatentable, such as mathematical formulas; processes that are substantially economic, financial, business, social, cultural or artistic; processes that are mental or purely natural; unmodified human genes; and unmodified natural materials.

The January 23 hearing featured eight witnesses, divided into two panels. The first panel included:

  • Andrei Iancu, former US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) director
  • Richard Blaylock, testifying on behalf of Invitae Corporation
  • Courtenay Brinckerhoff, partner at Foley & Lardner
  • Phil Johnson, steering committee chair at the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform.

The second panel included:

  • The Honorable David Kappos, former PTO director
  • Adam Mossoff, professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School
  • Mark Deem, operating partner of Lightstone Ventures
  • David Jones, executive director of the High-Tech Inventors Alliance.

Harkening back to prior panels, the testimony was largely in favor of reform considering what many characterized as inaction by all other stakeholders. Senators and witnesses alike recognized that legislative reform is likely the only way to gain clarity on § 101 considering the Supreme Court’s failure to take up more than 100 certiorari petitions seeking review, many with the Solicitor General’s endorsement.

During the first panel, Blaylock testified that PERA would improperly provide patent eligibility to new uses of natural phenomena, such as genetic material, and therefore “would stifle innovation and harm patient care in the fields of diagnostic genetic testing and precision medicine.” Iancu testified in response that “all human invention is the manipulation of nature towards practical uses by humans on this planet . . . and it should be eligible for a patent.” Brinckerhoff’s testimony also opposed Blaylock’s view; she explained that considerable research and development is needed to develop new uses for isolated natural products and would be disincentivized without patent eligibility. Brinckerhoff highlighted an important theme at the hearing: “PERA would bring eligibility back in line with other countries” by permitting patents on methods of detecting new diagnostic markers, thus maintaining international competitiveness. Lastly, Johnson testified that “[j]ust because something is eligible doesn’t mean it’s patentable” and stressed the importance of using §§ 102, 203 and 112 as additional filters to determine patentability.

During the second panel, venture capitalist Deem testified that “the United States is failing many of our most innovative startups” because [...]

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Same Applicant, Similar Claims Support Obviousness-Type Double Patenting Rejection

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board obviousness-type double patenting rejection, finding that an unexpected mechanism of action does not render the known use of a known compound nonobvious. In re: Institut Pasteur, Case No. 22-1896 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 13, 2023) (Taranto, Clevenger, Stoll, JJ.) (nonprecedential).

Institut Pasteur filed a patent application directed to peptides derived from human basic proline-rich lacrimal protein and claimed, among other things, a method for treating pain comprising of administering 10 to 300 mg/day of the peptide for seven days. The examiner rejected the claims for obviousness-type double patenting over another patent application filed by Pasteur, which was directed to diagnostic and therapeutic uses of human basic proline-rich lacrimal protein and peptides derived therefrom.

Pasteur appealed to the Board, which affirmed the examiner’s rejection. Rather than appeal the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit, Pasteur sought continued examination of the application and modified the claims to specify that the method of treatment was for human patients, was in a dose of 1 mg/kg to 2 mg/kg at 10 to 300 mg/day, and should not induce pharmacodependence or tolerance in the patient. The examiner rejected the amended claims for obviousness-type double patenting over the same application. On appeal, the Board issued another decision agreeing with the examiner. Pasteur appealed this decision.

Pasteur argued that the Board’s second decision was unsupported by substantial evidence because the Board applied a legally flawed prima facie obviousness analysis and disregarded the secondary indicia of nonobviousness presented in a declaration submitted by Catherine Rougeot, the named inventor of the application.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with Pasteur and affirmed the Board’s rejection. As for Pasteur’s argument that the Board disregarded the differences between the claims of the patent application and the claims of the other application, the Court noted that the Board “explained why each claim limitation was obvious in light of the [other application].” With respect to Pasteur’s argument that the Board improperly relied on inherency when finding one limitation of the filed application to be satisfied, the Court concluded that “[i]t is settled that inherency may supply a missing claim limitation in an obviousness analysis.”

As for Pasteur’s challenge to the Board’s consideration of the secondary indicia of nonobviousness presented in the Rougeot declaration, the Federal Circuit found that the Board’s analysis was supported by substantial evidence. The Court made clear that Pasteur failed to prove that the benefits claimed by the application were unexpected compared to the closest prior art since unexpected mechanisms of action do not ipso facto make the known use of known compounds nonobvious. The Court also noted that Federal Circuit precedent did not demand a finding of nonobviousness simply because one limitation was found to be satisfied through inherency. The Court was similarly unpersuaded by the long-felt need described in the Rougeot declaration because any need for the subject matter claimed by the patent application was already satisfied by the subject matter claimed by the other [...]

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Distinguishing Drinkware—Provisional Priority Determined Differently in Pre- and Post-AIA Patents

In a precedential final written decision, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board concluded that a patent does not need to contain a claim supported by a provisional application’s disclosure to draw priority to that provisional for prior art purposes post America Invents Act (AIA). Penumbra, Inc. v. RapidPulse, Inc., IPR2021-01466, paper 34 (PTAB Mar. 10, 2023) (designated precedential Nov. 15, 2023) (Melvin, Cotta, Wisz, APJs).

Penumbra filed an inter partes review (IPR) petition targeting a patent directed to a “thrombectomy system,” which is a system for removing blood clots in the brain. Penumbra challenged the claims on four different grounds, and each included the Tiegen reference. Therefore, the petition would fail if the Tiegen reference was not prior art.

The challenged patent was filed on July 18, 2019, and drew priority to a provisional application filed on October 24, 2018. Tiegen drew priority to two provisional applications—one dated December 12, 2018, and another dated July 24, 2018. Whether Tiegen was prior art thus depended on whether the challenged patent could draw priority to its provisional application, and whether Tiegen could draw priority to its July 24, 2018, provisional. RapidPulse challenged Tiegen on both bases.

First, the Board assessed the proper priority date for the challenged patent. The Board explained that in order for the patent to draw priority to its provisional application, that provisional application had to provide written support for the challenged patent’s claims. Penumbra argued that the challenged patent’s provisional application did not have written support for the claimed “prevent[ing] forward flow.” RapidPulse responded, arguing that the disclosure of a “minimal amount of momentum from the fluid column” disclosed the claimed “preventing forward flow.” Forward flow generates momentum from the fluid column, so minimizing momentum required preventing fluid flow, according to RapidPulse. RapidPulse also pointed to embodiments that had substantially no forward flow from the distal end of the system.

Penumbra responded by explaining that the provisional application required forward flow in some embodiments, and nothing in the specification stated that the flow should be prevented. The Board agreed, explaining that the provisional application included embodiments with forward flow, and while the provisional recited some embodiments with small amounts of forward flow, the provisional did not indicate that the low forward flow was significant. The Board observed that “one cannot disclose a forest in the original application, and then later pick a tree out of the forest.”

Having determined that the priority date of the challenged patent was July 18, 2019, the Board turned to the priority date of Tiegen. The Board distinguished the present case over Dynamic Drinkware, a 2015 US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case. Dynamic Drinkware states that for prior art purposes, a prior art patent can only draw priority to a provisional application if the prior art patent contains a claim supported by that provisional application. The Board explained that Dynamic Drinkware does not apply post-AIA. Instead, the Board found that, based on the language of AIA 35 [...]

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