How anyone can win an argument through analogy using PTAB big data

A distinguishing feature of a good patent practitioner is his or her ability to analogize or distinguish. But the usefulness of such analogizing/distinguishing is not limited to patent prosecutors. In fact, patent litigators are increasingly using ex parte appeals data in court with the same approach. 

First some context. Patent practitioners have long used a technique of analogizing to rules and case law to bolster their position. For example, a patent lawyer can use the universe of MPEP, case law or other USPTO guidance to point out that an examiner’s rejection is improper. A problem with this is that there is only finite hours to spend to sift through the thousands of pages of such resources for such analogizing information. This is where help from big data comes in. 

Ex parte PTAB appeals data can help patent practitioners analogize to overcome a particular rejection. With Anticipat Research, a savvy practitioner can simply input an examiner name, art unit or technology class of interest, along with the rejection type, filter for all reversals, and then quickly distill which argumentation and case law the Board found persuasive in overturning an application’s current rejection. 

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Board panels often analogize favorable case law and distinguish unfavorable case law, specific to the present claims. With the structure presented, the practitioner can piggy-back off of this work.

Of course, just as reversals can be helpful for those seeking to overturn a particular rejection, so can affirmances be used on the other side of patent prosecution. An examiner can use Anticipat to easily find supporting argumentation and case law that supports his or her position by locating similar decisions where the PTAB affirmed a particular rejection. 

Analogizing using this kind of patent prosecution data (ex parte appeals) predictably flows for patent prosecution responses (Office Action responses, appeal briefs) because both the data and the responses are integrally rooted in patent prosecution. But the use case can extend in an even less intuitive way: to patent litigation. 

For patents that some say should never have been granted in the first place, a patent litigator can use ex parte appeals affirmance data to quickly find argumentation and case law for invalidating a patent. Take a broadly claimed software patent allowed in an era pre-Alice. Actually, take one of the Alice patents that the Supreme Court held was invalid. 

aliceAny issued patent (including the above patent) will have an examiner, an art unit, and a technology class. One can simply input any of that patent’s metadata (e.g., technology class, examiner, art unit, technology center) into the Anticipat engine and filter for affirmances and you instantly have very recently decided cases where the Board applied relevant case law for this particular technology.

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So rather than keeping current on all Section 101 case law across all technologies (GUIs, business methods, algorithms, diagnostics, etc.), a practitioner can simply use effectively proven outcomes in related applications. Some discretion will be needed to see whether the Board decision claims are similar to the claims of interest (to be analogized to), but Anticipat gets you close to the needed resources at your disposal.

Big patent data is incredibly useful in finding the best and most persuasive course of action to advance your particular case. This applies to the patent prosecutor, the examiner and the patent litigator. Sign up for a 14-day free trial and see for yourself. 

 

If Congress does not act on Section 101, has the PTAB hinted at a path forward?

A recent blog post by IPWatchdog recapped specific consensus views at the Patent Masters Symposium™ where Congress can help fix the messy state of patent-eligibility at the USPTO. Getting Congress involved seems like the best way to stabilize and make patent-eligibility more predictable. But if patent reform loses steam on Capitol Hill, it working with the current law is critical. Recent developments at the PTAB show most effective arguments (Step 2A or Step 1 of Alice/Mayo) to argue against patent-ineligibility. 

Last week, we published updated data of appeal outcomes for abstract idea rejections in April 2019. Now we delve into one of the more interesting trends for these reversals since the 2019 revised Subject Matter Guidance. This is the growing disparity of PTAB panels relying on step 2A (Step 1 of Alice/Mayo) versus step 2B (Step 2 of Alice/Mayo).  

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As can be seen from the graph below, starting in January, the number of decisions reversing abstract idea rejections increasingly rely on Step 2A compared with Step 2B. The past couple months of March and April has been particularly noticeable. March had 61 Step 2A such decisions compared with 15 Step 2B decisions. April was even more stark with 46 Step 2A reversals and only 4 Step 2B reversals. This is at least partially due to the courts constantly struggling to make sense of Alice and Mayo’s definition of “inventive concept”. It appears that for those decisions where the Board reverses, Step 2B (including the Berkheimer/Aatrix requiremen for evidentiary support for conventionality) has become a forgotten approach for many panels.

As the USPTO has struggled to reconcile the confusion about an inventive concept (Step 2B), the actual analysis of the step has recently veered into Step 2A. As most US patent practitioners are aware, the 2019 guidelines have split the Step 2A analysis for abstract ideas into two prongs. The first prong asks: do the claims recite one of three groupings of abstract ideas (mathematical relationships, mental processes, or methods of organizing human behavior). The second prong asks whether the claim is directed to a practical application of the judicial exception. Exemplary considerations are as follows:

  1. an additional element reflects an improvement in the functioning of a computer, or an improvement to other technology or technical field;
  2. an additional element that applies or uses a judicial exception to effect a particular treatment or prophylaxis for a disease or medical condition;
  3. an additional element implements a judicial exception with, or uses a judicial exception in conjunction with, a particular machine or manufacture that is integral to the claim;
  4. an additional element effects a transformation or reduction of a particular article to a different state or thing; and
  5. an additional element applies or uses the judicial exception in some other meaningful way beyond generally linking the use of the judicial exception to a particular technological environment, such that the claim as a whole is more than a drafting effort designed to monopolize the exception.

 Confusingly, above point 1 was explicitly analyzed in the Alice Supreme Court decision in Step 2 (Step 2B). This shows signs that the search for the inventive concept at the USPTO is now happening at Step 2A and Step 2B. This is not too surprising to those following subsequent Federal Circuit case law. But knowing the specific arguments that are successful, it can be helpful to press the right inventive concept buttons early in the argumentation.  

Before getting into how recent Board decisions overturn abstract idea rejections, some context is helpful. Indeed, much of the confusion about the inventive concept is historical. When the Supreme Court decided Parker v. Flook (an appealed Board decision by the way), a split Court found that the claim for adjusting alarm limits was a patent-ineligible abstract idea under Section 101. It states that what was needed was an inventive concept for patent-eligibility. The majority ignored arguments that other statutory provisions should address concerns the Court had over the patent application.

A few years later, a split Supreme Court in Diamond v. Diehr (another appealed Board decision) reversed course. The majority held that the rubber-curing claim was a practical application of a known mathematical equation and was therefore patent-eligible. In a footnote, the majority rebutted the dissent by saying that Section 101 is not the vehicle for inventiveness. It seemed like Diehr had overturned at least the inventiveness dicta of Flook.

Years later the Supreme Court in Mayo reversed course yet again. In invalidating a claim as directed to a law of nature, the Court introduced a two-step framework for determining patent-eligibility under Section 101. Step 2 of this framework was the inventive concept under Flook. A couple years later, Alice cemented the Mayo framework for computer-implemented claims.

How can this information be helpful in guiding your personal prosecution strategy? For one, this can help you identify winning strategies for overturning Examiners during open prosecution of an application. The Examiner or SPE will know about any of his/her recent reversals on a particular abstract idea rejection, and using argumentation that is consistent with this Board panel’s reversal can resonate with the Examiner or supervisor (especially if the decided claim has some similarities to your claim).

Consider a case where the Board recently overturned an abstract idea rejection Ex parte Dearing et al (PTAB June 27, 2019). If you are facing abstract rejections with Examiner Dante Ravetti, or in art unit 3685, or even have a business method application in general, it could be helpful to see the arguments used in both Step 2A and Step 2B in overturning this abstract idea rejection. Likewise, if you’re hitting headwind prosecute abstract idea rejections with Examiner John Chunyang Kuan, you could look at the argumentation in a recently decided decision Ex Parte Hunter et al. (PTAB June 27, 2019). This decision shows arguments for Step 2A that were sufficient to overturn the rejection in computer art unit 2857. 

The other way this data can be helpful relates to appeal strategy. If an Examiner or supervisor is unconvinced of your arguments, tailoring argumentation that has been used by PTAB judges overseeing similar technology or art units will more likely set you up for a favorable outcome on appeal. 

By using Anticipat Research, you can easily find those cases that have been reversed in your technology class, by your examiner, the art unit, or technology center. You can then model argumentation to your present case, if applicable. While you can find this information for any type of rejection (102, 103, 112, OTDP, etc.), Section 101 is a powerful breakdown because you can drill into the subissues of judicial exceptions and filter away the other Section 101 rejections not relevant to your rejection.  

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In times of flux, it is great to push for change and progress. But in the meantime, having the best patent prosecution data can dramatically improve your advocacy and ability to show patent-eligibility.  

 

 

 

If you’re going to appeal your application to the Board twice, res judicata should make you think twice

Sometimes it makes sense to appeal an application more than one time. Perhaps the Examiner isn’t complying with the direction from the first Board decision. Maybe an invention is so valuable that you’d rather avoid overlimiting the claims with lots of prosecution history estoppel and claim amendments and instead try getting broader claim scope through the appeal process the second time. Or maybe the application is in such a desperate state that another appeal is the only good option left. Regardless of the motivation for appealing twice, a good practice tip shown in a recent ex parte decision shows the importance of making sure that the claims are different enough from a previously unfavorable outcome.

In Ex Parte Tsypkaykin (PTAB Jun 20, 2019), on appeal was an obviousness rejection. The PTAB had previously decided a substantially similar obviousness rejection a few years previous in Ex Parte Tsypkaykin (PTAB Sept. 22, 2016). Buchanan Ingersoll went up against Examiner Jay Hann the first time and lost, but in the second attempt had made claim amendments. It was Round II of Buchanan Ingersoll vs Examiner Hann.

In the recent decision, the Board first adopted the Examiner’s findings regarding the obviousness rejection, affirming the rejection. The panel then agreed with the Examiner that the claim amendments are synonymous or “not patentably distinct” from the previous claim, which rejection was affirmed previously. See MPEP 706.03(w), 706.07(h)(XI)(A). Here are the amendments to the representative

Thus, the rejection was also affirmed based on res judicata.

A good law student should be able to tell you about the doctrine of res judicata. This is a doctrine of judicial efficiency and fairness, which is that an issue that has been decided once need not be decided again. What that good law student may not know is how res judicata applies to administrative bodies, such as the USPTO. At least from the patent prosecution perspective, the PTAB seems open to using this doctrine if the claims are not patentably distinct from claims that were previously affirmed as rejected.

How often does res judicata get applied by the board? In short, extremely rarely. For one, it is rare that an application gets appealed twice. It’s even more rare for res judicata. Of over 100,000 decisions, the Anticipat database showed 45 such decisions with the key word match.

Interestingly, both decisions were penned by Gregg I. Anderson. Given the small cohort of PTAB judges for tech centers, having the same PTAB judge write the opinion for two decisions is not out of the ordinary. Here, Judge Anderson may have recognized familiar argumentation and was not convinced the second time. As a former litigator, he was also familiar with res judicata. The two panels had two overlapping judges: the second panel consisted of administrative patent judges Carolyn D. Thomas, Jeremy J. Curcuri, and Gregg I. Anderson while the first panel included Jeremy J. Curcuri, Gregg I. Anderson and Eric B. Chen.

Keep in mind res judicata when pursuing a second appeal. It might save you a lot of effort and time.

April shows fewer (but still high) abstract idea (Alice-based) reversals

April showed a continued high number (204) of abstract idea decisions decided at the Board. Of the 204 total decisions deciding abstract idea rejections for this month, the Board completely reversed the rejection 54 times. This shows a reversal rate of 26.5%, which is lower than the last several months, but higher than many previous months.

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In addition to the reversal rate, the volume of this type of rejection being decided continues to be high—higher than last year, with the number of reversals significantly higher.

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In a prior blog post, we correctly predicted that the reversal rates for these rejections would come down from record-breaking. We’ll emphasize here factors that are leading to this.

First, Federal Circuit case law has likely contributed to a cautious approach by the PTAB. As we mentioned, Director Iancu can only push patent-eligibility so far before it is inconsistent with case law. And this came to a head most recently with the Athena v. Mayo case, in which the Federal Circuit affirmed an invalidiy judgment on a claim as directed to a judicial exception (law of nature). This, despite the fact that the Examiner had found that it was analogous to a 2016 example claim that was patent-eligible. The Federal Circuit panel gave its respect to the USPTO, but said it was not bound by its guidance.

Likewise, the Board likely appreciates that even though it is bound by the 2019 Subject Matter Guidance, it also shares the USPTO’s interest in making sure that patents don’t get issued that will later be found patent-ineliigible. Thus, adherence to guidance won’t guarantee a patent eligible claim set, so panels are likely taking a careful consideration of the case law as well.

Second, an uptick in the number of remands (PAIR event code = “APAR”) have been observed. These remands are instructions from the Technology Center Director that sua sponte orders the proceeding to be remanded to the Examiner “for further consideration.”

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For patent-eligibility rejections, these remands (especially in light of recent subject matter guidance) serve as a sort of proxy for reversals. These remands, are normally very rare. Between 2008 – 2017, there were 2084 remands out of a total of roughly 78,000 final decisions. A quick review of recent remands showed that immediately after a remand, a Notice of Allowance was the next event. See 10/629,597. This seems to indicate that the application likely would have been allowed or had the proceeding continued at the Board Examiner to reopen prosecution, the Board could have reversed the ground.

Third, many of the upstream events have eliminated the need for a reversal from final appeal decisions. This is linked to the above point about remands. That is, Berkheimer and the subsequent Berkheimer memo were issued in March of 2018, which may have started the thaw in freezes to patent-eligibility for applications in examination. This is represented in applications that were allowed before a notice of appeal was filed, after a pre-appeal brief was filed, and after an appeal brief was filed. Thus, many of the reversals in recent months may represent easier cases than those now being decided that have survived such pre-filtering.

Despite chatter on Capital Hill about amending Section 101 for greater predictability, many believe that passage of such a bill will be difficult in this year with competing priorities. And even with such amendments, it appears unlikely that the problem of patent-eligibility will go away—it will simply change. Thus, abstract idea rejections do not appear to be going away any time soon. Expect the reversal rate to continue to be higher than historical reversal rates, but not necessarily record-breaking unless new more favorable case law is made.

 

 

 

 

Get fresh ex parte PTAB decisions delivered to your inbox

For those who like to stay current on the latest appeals decided by the PTAB, we have good news. Anticipat Email Recap just rolled out a major new feature. Now, rather than waiting for a particular decision date to be populated, you can get all the organized and curated decisions from the previous day delivered right when you start off the day.

For some time, the USPTO published their appeals decisions in a somewhat reliable and timely manner. We could delivery recaps based on decision date, with some sort of a lag. But as the lag time grew larger and larger, much of the value of having these emails diminished. Now, you can see every decision that was published on efoia webpage–a less than 24 hour turnaround time.

For those interested in recap covering longer spans of time, we have built in that functionality preference.

You can also apply a filter for only decisions that meet a certain criteria, e.g., from a particular art unit, examiner, issue type, outcome. This can minimize emails that aren’t relevant to you or your practice.

As many are aware, our world has too much information. We’d like to help you get the most value out of PTAB appeal decisions. Give the new fresh recap a try here: https://anticipat.com/accounts/signup/research/

The PTAB sets Another Record for Reversing Abstract Idea Rejections

On April 30, 2019, a customer partnership meeting took place between the USPTO Technology Centers 3600 and 3700 and American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA). The topics for this meeting varied widely (e.g., a training on functional claim drafting and a training on means-plus-function limitations in medical device claims). But for this meeting in these tech centers, the elephant in the room was Section 101, which Paul Kitch covered. Here we provide updated data on how the revised guidance continues to drive record-setting reversals for abstract idea rejections at the Board. We also show that these reversal rates are unevenly distributed throughout the tech centers, especially in tech centers 3600 and 3700.

March 2019 saw the PTAB break another record for total abstract idea rejections reversed. We previously reported that February broke the record with 62 total reversals, but we predicted that this record should not last long. This post turned out to be particularly prescient. In March 2019, the PTAB wholly reversed 77 decisions, exceeding the previous record-holding month by 15.

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Besides the total number of reversals, the PTAB also maintained a high reversal rate. That is, about 33%, or one in three abstract idea rejections were reversed.

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We’re also seeing that Step 1 is becoming the main way in which PTAB panels overturn Examiner abstract idea rejections. In March, 61 decisions relied on Step 1 of the Alice/Mayo framework (Step 2A of the USPTO vernacular) while only 15 relied on Step 2 (Step 2B).

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How does these reversals and reversal rates relate specifically to tech centers 3600 and 3700? With tech center 3600 being the home of many business method art units, one would correctly assume lower reversal rates. Since December 2018 – March 2019, 134 out of 520 decisions were wholly reversed, yielding a reversal rate of 26%. Tech center 3700, home to mechanical and medical device tech, had 23 such reversals out of 47 total, yielding a reversal rate of 50%. The tech centers with the highest rates turned out to be tech center 2100 (27/43 = 63%), home to electrical and computer tech, followed by tech center 2400 (14/26= 54%), home also to electrical and computer tech. 

The abstract idea reversals should continue for several months as applications that have been on appeal wait their turn before the Board. But as applications further upstream (e.g., appeal conference, pre-appeal conference and before the Examiner) are increasingly getting allowed, expect the reversals to return to earth. Especially when Federal Circuit decisions such as Athena v. Mayo (Fed. Cir. Feb. 2019) are pushing back on how valid allowed claims (inspired by USPTO guidance and examples) really are in the real world, .

 

For Obviousness, Some Things Change but the Board Statistics Remain the Same

The Anticipat research database continues to comprehensively cover all legal grounds of rejection considered by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) for its ex parte appeals decision. This includes the more exotic like statutory subject matter Section 101 cases to the much more common issues like obviousness (Section 103).

Since July 25, 2016 to February 28, 2019, there have been around 24,448 obviousness decisions from the 29,102 total decisions meaning that nearly 84% of all appeals involve obviousness. Our observation is that obviousness is the most common ground of rejection to be decided at the Board. In this post, the data considered excludes decisions where the outcome involved a new ground of rejection based on obviousness as these typically only form a small fraction of the cases.

Of the 24,448 total decisions, 12,369 were affirmed, 8,386 were reversed, and 2354 were affirmed in part. Thus, the wholly reversed rate (for all claims in a case based on obviousness) was about 34%. The at least partially reversed rate (at least one claim in the case was found patentable) is about 44% (43.9%).

What is interesting to note is the breakdown by technology center in the USPTO. The technology centers contain the various art units to which patent cases are assigned based on how the claimed technology in each patent application is classified by the USPTO. Here is the summary of obviousness cases broken down by technology center based on cases decided between July 25, 2016 to February 28, 2019.

TC 1600 (biotech/pharma): Total decisions: 2333; 1907 total obviousness decisions. 1151 affirmed, 132 affirmed in part, 492 reversed. Wholly reversed rate is 25.8% and at least partially reversed rate is 32.7%.

1700 (chemical): Total decisions: 3950; 3633 total obviousness decisions. 2103 affirmed, 280 affirmed in part, 1041 reversed. Wholly reversed rate is 28.7% and at least partially reversed rate is 36%.

2100 (computer/electrical): Total decisions: 2976; 2575 total obviousness decisions. 1467 affirmed, 228 affirmed in part, and 739 reversed. Wholly reversed rate is 28.7% and at least partially reversed rate is 37.6%.

2400(computer/electrical): Total decisions: 3164; 2791 total obviousness decisions. 1531 affirmed, 276 affirmed in part, and 852 reversed. Wholly reversed rate is 30.5% and at least partially reversed rate is 40.4%.

2600(computer/electrical): Total decisions: 2760; 2458 total obviousness decisions. 1420 affirmed, 241 affirmed in part, and 677 reversed. Wholly reversed 27.5% and at least partially reversed rate is 37.3%.

2800(computer/electrical): Total appealed decisions: 1979; 1648 total obviousness decisions. 813 affirmed, 128 affirmed in part, 583 reversed. Wholly reversed 35.4% and at least partially reversed rate is 43%.

3600 (business methods/software): Total appealed decisions: 5941; 4212 total obviousness decisions. 1842 affirmed, 418 affirmed-in-part, 1755 reversed. Wholly reversed rate is 41.7% and at least partially reversed rate is 51.6%.

3700 (medical device/mechanical): Total decisions: 5734. 5022 total obviousness decisions. 1929 affirmed, 625 affirmed-in-part, 2195 reversed. Wholly reversed rate is 43.7%. At least partial reversal rate is 56.1%.

We note that the data has not shifted more than a couple of percentage points from our review of the data as reported in the past despite the increase in number of decisions. This indicates that, with respect to obviousness, by and large the Examiners (and the two supervisory Examiners involved in the Appeal Conferences) are very consistent in 1) picking the same kinds of bad decisions to take on appeal and the Board is 2) agreeing with applicants that this is the case at the same consistent rate. While some things like the particular cases being taken on appeal today have changed, the behavior by the USPTO has stayed markedly the same.

As a general observation, in the private sector a process producing 34% outright defective parts and 44% partially defective parts as determined by its own internal quality control process (the Board) would likely immediately regarded as being a low quality, unpredictable process (and would probably put a company out of business). At Anticipat, we believe that the ex parte appeals statistics are the closest and best end of line quality control indicator of the quality of the USPTO’s patent examination process. However, since these statistics are just an end of line quality control indicator, trying to change Examiner behavior solely using the ex parte appeals statistics will not solve the quality problem—reducing examiner variability will require the USPTO identifying meaningful inline statistical data monitors (pre-appeal) that could be used to reduce the variability in the examination process. The inline data monitors are what the USPTO could use to reduce the current levels of examination variability–and the end of line data (the ex parte appeals statistics) will show the effect too.

Could such a statistics-based process be implemented at the USPTO? Certainly–but it can only begin when the agency acknowledges that statistics like these reflect unmistakably on the quality and predictability of the patents currently granted. Tightening the USPTO’s distribution to result in lower ex parte appeals reversals will inevitably (through the operation of statistics itself) result in more predictable and better quality issued patents.  Until then, the only predictable thing is that USPTO Examiners will continue to be reversed by the PTAB at these double digit rates for obviousness.