On January 4, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released new Patent Examiner Guidance (“the Guidance”) for subject matter eligibility. The updated guidance could benefit any technology patent applicant who has a computer-related invention — from smartphones to artificial intelligence — and who has previously had difficulty acquiring patents under the USPTO’s procedures for determining patent subject matter eligibility.
This Guidance represents the current methodology for analysis of patent claims under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in view of Mayo v. Prometheus, Alice v. CLS Bank Intl., and subsequent cases, and is intended to provide a more concrete framework for analyzing whether patent claims, as a whole, are merely “directed to” an abstract idea. The Guidance will supersede certain analysis methods articulated in previous guidance, particularly the examiner’s “Quick Reference” that previously sought to categorize abstract ideas.
The Alice/Mayo test
The Guidance acknowledges that applying the Alice/Mayo test to analyze claims under § 101 has “caused uncertainty in this area of the law” and has resulted in examination practices that prevent stakeholders from “reliably and predictably determining what subject matter is patent-eligible.” As such, the Guidance attempts to remedy this uncertainty by revising the USPTO’s analysis under the first step (Step 2A) of the Alice/Mayo test: