Over the past five years, the Supreme Court has embarked upon a drastic and far-reaching experiment in patent eligibility standards. Since the founding era, the nation’s patent statutes have afforded patent protection to technological innovations and practical applications of scientific discoveries. However, the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories imposed a new limitation on the scope of the patent system: a useful application of a scientific discovery is ineligible for patent protection unless the inventor also claims an “inventive” application of the discovery. The following year, the Court ruled that discoveries of the location and sequence of DNA compositions that are useful in diagnosing diseases are ineligible for patent protection in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. Additionally, in its 2014 Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International decision, the Court ruled that software-related claims are ineligible for patent protection unless the abstract ideas or mathematical formulas disclosed are inventively applied.
These decisions sent shock waves through the research, technology, business, and patent communities. Medical diagnostics companies experienced a dramatic narrowing of eligibility for core scientific discoveries. Reactions within the information technology community have been mixed, with some applauding the tightening of patent eligibility standards on software claims and the opportunity to seek early dismissal of lawsuits, particularly those filed by nonpracticing entities, and others criticizing the shift in patent eligibility. Several members of the Federal Circuit bluntly criticized the Supreme Court’s shift in patent eligibility standards on jurisprudential and policy grounds. Additionally, the Patent Office has struggled to apply the Supreme Court’s new and rapidly evolving standards.
As this sea change unfolded, many patent practitioners, scholars, PTO officials, and jurists hoped that the Supreme Court would provide fuller and clearer guidance on patent eligibility standards. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court rejecting the invitation to reexamine its Mayo decision, many stakeholders have shifted their attention toward legislative reforms. This Report summarizes the presentations and discussion of a workshop that included leading industry representatives, practitioners, scholars, policymakers, and a retired jurist exploring the legal background and effects bearing on legislative action.
Jeffrey A. Lefstin, Peter S. Menell, and David O. Taylor,
Final Report of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology Section 101 Workshop: Addressing Patent Eligibility Challenges,
33 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 551