In an homage to John Welch's well-known TTAB Blog, today we ask "Would you have appealed this 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejection?
In a straightforward decision today, the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) affirmed an Examiner's 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejection of a computer program product claim based on the disclosure of a transitory medium in the specification. This blog post highlights a very common rejection for software-related claims.
Recall that "A transitory, propagating signal . . . is not a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter [under 35 U.S.C. § 101] and, therefore, does not constitute patentable subject matter under § 101. In re Nuijten, 500 F.3d 1346, 1357 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Claims that are so broad that they read on nonstatutory as well as statutory subject matter are unpatentable. Cf. In re Lintner, 458 F.2d 1013, 1015 (CCPA 1972) (citation omitted) ('Claims which are broad enough to read on obvious subject matter are unpatentable even though they also read on nonobvious subject matter.'). See my previous post regarding 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejections.
The case of Ex parte Castaneda (Appeal No. 2009-013594) involved a software application that provided calendaring services. The Examiner rejected a "computer useable medium" claim because it encompassed carrier waves. Thus, the Examiner found that the claim was directed to non-statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 (In re Lintner notwithstanding).
The Appellant's specification clearly disclosed that a computer usable medium may include propagation mediums, such as electronic, magnetic, optical, electromagnetic, or infrared signals. Still, the Appellant decided to appeal and simply argued that the computer usable medium "could" encompass statutory subject matter and that sufficed in overcoming a non-statutory subject matter .
In light of Appellant's disclosure in the specification, the Board decided:
"... we find that the claimed "...computer useable medium embodying computer usable program code..." can be broadly, but reasonably construed to encompass a transitory, propagating signal, which is non-statutory subject matter. Further, since the claim is not limited to a non-transitory, tangible medium within one of the four statutory classes of 35 U.S.C. § 101, we agree with the Examiner that independent claim 13 is directed to nonstatutory subject matter."
I would not have appealed this 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejection. Mainly because it would have been so easy to amend the specification or the claim to eliminate non-statutory subject matter. It would have taken no time to delete the non-statutory language from the specification or insert the phrase "wherein computer usable medium does not include transitory subject matter" in an amendment. This often happens when the patent attorney misses the time frame for amending the claim before the Notice of Appeal or Appeal Brief was due and then is stuck having to assert a bogus argument against the 101 rejection. If the due date for filing an Appeal Brief has arrived, it's too late to enter a substantial amendment.
What does this mean for practitioners? This means that if you define your claim term, such as "computer usable medium," to include transitory media, such as carrier signals, then you can expect a 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejection. It doesn't matter that your claim term "could possibly" include statutory subject matter. If the claim term's ascribed meaning includes non-statutory subject matter, then a 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejection will survive appeal.
Further, watch your docketing due dates and make sure that if you have to amend the specification or claims to avoid a 35 U.S.C. § 101 rejection, it is done as soon as possible. Specifically, the amendment should be completed within a month of the Final Rejection, so it will most likely be entered. Don't wait until the date the Appeal Brief or Notice of Appeal is due. Otherwise, you could find yourself in the same predicament as Ex parte Castaneda, which resulted in a full affirmation of the Examiner's rejections - a total loss.