Yu v. Apple (Supreme Court 2021)
A new petition for certiorari asks the court whether Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978) is still good law.
Quick answer from Crouch: Yes, it is still good law.
Flook is a divide-and-conquer case that looks a lot like the Alice test itself. The claims were directed setting of “alarm limits” for a catalytic conversion process and the court identified the only novel feature to be a mathematical formula. The mathematical formula was an abstract idea, and thus offered no patentable weight. And, the remaining features were admittedly known in the art.
Respondent’s process is unpatentable under § 101 not because it contains a mathematical algorithm as one component, but because, once that algorithm is assumed to be within the prior art, the application, considered as a whole, contains no patentable invention. Thus, the claim as a whole was ineligible. Although the court recognized that it had disected the claim into component parts, it also concluded that this approach still took the claim “as a whole:”
Our approach [is] not at all inconsistent with the view that a patent claim must be considered as a whole. Respondent’s process is unpatentable under § 101 not because it contains a mathematical algorithm as one component, but because, once that algorithm is assumed to be within the prior art, the application, considered as a whole, contains no patentable invention. Even though a phenomenon of nature or mathematical formula may be well known, an inventive application of the principle may be patented. Conversely, the discovery of such a phenomenon cannot support a patent unless there is some other inventive concept in its application.
Id. To be clear, the Federal Circuit treated Flook as effectively repudiated by Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175 (1981), but that was apparently never the view of the Supreme Court. I should note here the actual question presented is as follows:
Whether, when applying the test for patent eligibility set forth in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. 66 (2012), a patent claim should be considered “as a whole” in accordance with Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175 (1981), or instead, whether all conventional elements of the claim must be disregarded prior to determining its “point of novelty” as set forth in this Court’s older precedent in Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978).
Read the petition here: 20211129141853759_USSCPetitionforWritofCertiorari.