The most impactful patent decision in 2014 looks to be Alice Corp. In that case, the Supreme Court outlined its jurisprudential steps for determining whether a claimed innovation is patent eligible. In the process, the court narrowed the scope of eligibility (implicitly invalidating many issued patents) and also seemingly unified the approach to eligibility across the potential subject matter. Alice Corp. applies equally to USPTO administrative procedures as well as to patent challenges in federal courts.
Gaps in the Process: Although the court created a framework for decisionmaking, it also left a number of important gaps that make it quite difficult for a bureaucrat patent examiner to follow the steps without substantial creative legal thinking.
To help fill this whole, in mid-December the USPTO released its 2014 Interim Guidance on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility. The guidelines where released in “interim-but-final” form and I expect that some amendments to those will come in 2015 in response to both advances in case law as well as commentary from interested parties. To that end, the USPTO has requested feedback by March 15, 2015 sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
FORUM: The Office is also holding an public forum on the guidlines at the USPTO main campus in Alexandria on Jan 21, 2015. Anyone wanting to attend and/or present at the event needs to contact the USPTO (at the same email address above) by Friday January 9, 2015. More info here. According to the release, “only those with an accepted attendance request will be permitted to attend.”
The forum will provide an opportunity to provide specific examples of how the USPTO should be drawing the line between eligible and ineligible subject matter.