Jeremy J. Gustrowsky

USPTO Gives New Guidance on Software Inventions

January 25, 2019

Earlier this month, the United State Patent and Trademark Office released new guidance for its Examiners to help them better determine when an invention is too abstract to be patentable. This latest effort by the Patent Office brings more clarity and predictability to the examination process for inventors seeking patent protection for software and business methods.

To be patentable, an invention must be new, useful, and unobvious. The courts have also recognized that abstract ideas and laws of nature are also not eligible for patent protection. Predicting which inventions are too abstract for patent protection has been a challenge in the past, and has become more difficult since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank (March, 2014). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has so far attempted to follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines on a case by case basis giving us clues as to the kinds of inventions that are too abstract to be patented. This effort has created some clarity in specific cases, but it has also created additional confusion where the Federal Circuit has given differing opinions for similar inventions. This raises the possibility that different Examiners in the same technology area may pick and choose how to handle similar inventions thus arriving at different conclusions for similar subject matter.

The Patent Office has responded with this latest guidance for the Examiner corps that attempts to synthesize the case law into a more practical legal framework that may be applied in a more predictable manner. Although they do not have the force of law, the guidelines offer valuable insights into how Examiners will determine whether the subject matter in a given application is unpatentably abstract.

Looking briefly at the substance of the latest guidance, the USPTO is revising its examination procedure by: (1) Providing groupings of subject matter that it considers to be an abstract idea; and (2) clarifying that a claim is not ‘‘directed to’’ a judicial exception if the judicial exception is integrated into a practical application of that exception.

On the first point, the Patent Office sees three separate categories of material that are unpatentably abstract:

  1. Mathematical Concepts: Mathematical relationships, mathematical formulas or equations, mathematical calculations
  2. Methods of Organizing Human Activity: Fundamental economic principles or practices (including hedging, insurance, mitigating risk); commercial or legal interactions (including agreements in the form of contracts; legal obligations; advertising, marketing or sales activities or behaviors; business relations); managing personal behavior or relationships or interactions between people (including social activities, teaching, and following rules or instructions)
  3. Mental Processes: Mental processes—concepts performed in the human mind (including an observation, evaluation, judgment, opinion).

According to the guidelines, concepts that do not fit one of these categories are probably not abstract ideas. The Patent Office does leave open the possibility that exceptional cases could arise where the concept is too abstract to be patented, but also does not fit into one of these categories.

On the second point, the Patent Office explains that even if the claims do fall within one of the three groupings above, they may still be eligible for patent protection if the abstract concept is integrated into a practical application of that concept. A “practical application” is one that applies, relies on, or uses the concept “in a manner that imposes a meaningful limit on the abstract concept.”

The new guidance represents a noteworthy change in the way applications will be handled by Examiners, and it marks the latest attempt by the Patent Office to bring clarity and predictability to the process. It is also important to note that this is not a change in the statute approved by Congress, nor is it a change to the legal framework that has been endorsed by the Federal Circuit or the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen then, what the long-term effect of this change will be on applications currently under examination, and what affect, if any, it will have on patent litigation going forward.


Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett & Henry LLP Promotes Two to Partnership

January 3, 2018

Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett & Henry LLP is proud to announce that Jeremy Gustrowsky and Michael Morris have been named to the firm’s partnership, which was effective January 1, 2018.

Jeremy Gustrowsky focuses on all areas of intellectual property. He assists clients with a wide variety of needs to plan and execute strategies for protecting their ideas and branding their products and services. He has significant experience in preparing and prosecuting patent applications in the U.S. and abroad for a broad range of products. He also assists in litigation and dispute resolution matters.
He is a graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (J.D., 2010) and University of North Carolina at Asheville (B.S., 1999)

Michael Morris practices in all areas of intellectual property, including providing services for identifying, procuring, and enforcing intellectual property rights. In particular, he has significant experience in preparing and prosecuting medical device and mechanical patent applications in the U.S. and abroad; providing freedom-to-operate, infringement/non-infringement, invalidity/validity opinions and monitoring competitor IP.
He is a graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law (J.D., 2011) and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (B.S., 2008)


Software Patentability v.2.0.1.6: A Review of 2016 Federal Circuit Opinions

January 19, 2017

The January patent prosecution practice luncheon included a discussion of highlights from 2016 Federal Circuit opinions that addressed the patentability of software inventions. Although the Federal Circuit continued its trend of invalidating most of the software patents it reviewed, several cases offered software patent holders new cause for optimism. The presentation can be downloaded here.


House Passes Federal Trade Secret Bill

April 28, 2016

The House on Wednesday passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 which would allow individuals and companies to fight trade-secret theft in federal court. The Senate already voted to approve the bill earlier this month, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

Trade secrets include customer lists, recipes, procedures, blueprints, and other accumulated proprietary knowledge that provides businesses with a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Such proprietary information provides hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue and millions of jobs.

Currently, federal trade secret protection is only available by requesting the Justice Department to intervene. Companies or individuals cannot file a federal lawsuit and must therefore address the issue in state courts. This can mean added complexity and expense when dealing with various state courts with differing laws, particularly when a trade secret case involves multiple states.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act would authorize individuals and companies to file a civil lawsuit in federal court for the misappropriation of a trade secret that is related to products or services involved in interstate or foreign commerce. Besides the potential for reduced cost and complexity, the law provides options for enforcement that are beyond what state courts are typically willing to do. For example, a seizure provision allows a company to ask for the government to seize its trade secrets prior to giving any notice of the lawsuit to a potential defendant.

The Obama Administration has thus far supported the Defense of Trade Secrets Act. In a statement released earlier this month, the President said he “strongly supports” the legislation and its effort to make trade secret protection “more uniform, reliable, and predictable.”

Contact us if you have any questions on this or any other aspect of intellectual property protection.


Federal Circuit Finds the Disparagement Provision of the Lanham Act Unconstitutional

February 29, 2016

This presentation provides information concerning the recent In re Tam case in which the Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision of §2(a) of the Lanham Act is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment right of free speech. It also discusses the impact of this holding on the currently pending Redskins case. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here.


August 2015 Litigation Update

August 21, 2015

The August litigation update included a discussion of some important statistics on post grant proceedings issued by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The statistics offer information on the number of Inter Partes Review (IPR), Covered Business Method Review (CBMR), and Post Grant Review (PGR) proceedings that have been initiated and granted, the most common subject matter involved, and the number of claims held invalid in the end. The update also included a discussion of the Akami v. Limelight case that has been moving between the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in Akami that showing inducement to infringe requires a single direct infringer. In response, the Federal Circuit has now expanded the definition of a “direct” infringer to include multiple parties working together in a joint enterprise.

The presentation can be downloaded here.


Domain Disputes and a Review of the Uniform Domain-Name Resolution Policy (UDRP)

June 9, 2015

The presentation below provides information concerning the Uniform Domain-Name Resolution Policy (UDRP) as well as the recent Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) procedures. This presentation discusses the nuts and bolts of filing complaints as well as the elements required to file a UDRP action. In addition, the presentation provides an overview of the UDRP process and practical tips on how to handle the UDRP and URS processes. The presentation can be downloaded here.


November 2014 Patent Prosecution Lunch Presentation

December 3, 2014

The November patent prosecution practice luncheon included a discussion of Patent Advisor and several cases which have were successful in overcoming rejections based on Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, et al., 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014). The presentation can be downloaded here.


Patent Examination Guidelines in View of the Alice Decision Presentation

August 22, 2014

The following presentation discusses the recent patent examination guidelines for patentable subject matter issued by the USPTO concerning the recent Alice decision. The presentation can be downloaded here.


January 2014 Trademark Update

January 31, 2014

Topics covered in this month’s trademark update include a district court ruling that applicants must pay PTO fees when reviewing a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) regardless of whether the applicant wins or loses, a district court ruling reversing the TTAB’s descriptiveness rejection in Timex Group USA, Inc. v. Focarino (E.D.Va. Dec. 2013), and the TTAB’s ruling against registration of the 668 word mark in In re Prema Jyothi Light, Serial No. 76293326 (2013). The presentation is available for download here.

Older Posts »