By Dennis Crouch
Ex Parte Ciprian Agapi, 2013 WL 6039024 (PTAB 2013)
The PTAB continues to decide a large number of subject matter eligibility issues. In this case, IBM is attempting to patent a "computer implemented" method and system for producing, brokering, and distributing digital content. The examiner rejected the pending claims under 35 U.S.C. § 101 as encompassing (1) a human organism and (2) an abstract idea, either of which is sufficient to render the claims unpatentable. The method of claim 1 includes ten steps that basically follow the process shown in the flowchart below. Claims 22 and 23 offer the same substantive limitations in the form of a "machine-readable storage" and "computer-implemented system" respectively. The claims do provide for "computer implemented … distribution" and "digitally conveyable content" but do not otherwise claim any particular technological implementation.
In interpreting the claims, the PTAB basically found that the claim form was critical for its analysis. In particular, the Board found that the system claim (23) is unpatentable because it encompasses a human being or group of human beings.
[W]e agree with the Examiner that the claimed content systems encompass a human being or a group of human beings, when given the broadest reasonable meaning in light of the Specification. We see nothing in the meaning of system itself or the Specification that would preclude these systems from being reasonably construed as encompassing a human being or a group of human beings. Further, we note that the Specification describes embodiments where these systems include both humans and computers, as well as, embodiments where these systems are fully automated.
In considering the machine-readable medium claim (22) and the method claim (1), the Board found that neither "reasonably encompass" human beings. Rather, the one is directed to "an article … that causes a machine" to act and the other is directed to the "use [of] human interaction but [does] not encompass the humans themselves."
Regarding the abstract idea, the Board found that the method claim (1) failed the machine-or-transformation test since it neither required a "particular" machine and because the "mere manipulation or reorganization of data . . . does not satisfy the transformation prong." CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc., 654 F.3d 1366, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2011).
[Update] According to the examiner, the only claims that passed subject-matter-eligibility muster were those written in Beauregard form and directed to software stored on a machine readable device. However, [as LB correctly points out in the comments], the Board found cause to reject those as well – holding the claims are unpatentable because they closely track the unpatentable method and system claims. In addition, the Board also found the claims unpatentable as ineligible signals since the storage media could be a transitory signal.