The Unsettling State of Patent Eligibility under § 101: A Critical Analysis
Over the past four years, the Government Circuit’s decisions concerning patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 have veered off course, leaving inventors and industries adrift in a sea of inconsistency. The lack of coherence across these rulings has created a puzzling landscape within patent law. Neither patent examiners, Administrative Patent Judges, district courts, nor the community of patent attorneys can make sense of this convoluted web of case law.
The Federal Circuit’s decisions appear to contradict each other incessantly. For instance, in Electric Power Gathering v. Alstom and SAP America v. Investpic, a categorical rule emerged: claims centered solely on data collection, processing, and display were deemed ineligible for patents. However, this stance clashes with at least six other contradictory rulings.
It begs the question: Did the involved parties in Electric Power Gathering or Investpic even consider precedents like Bilski or Alice? Both cases underscore that denying patent protection for innovations beyond congressional contemplation would undermine the very purpose of patent law. Alice, in particular, highlights the risk of an overly broad interpretation swallowing the essence of patent law.
Diminished Disclosure and the Rise of Trade Secrets
The Federal Circuit’s inclination towards favoring trade secrets over patents is disheartening. Encouraging innovators to hide their creations, rather than participate in the patent process, contradicts the fundamental principle of disclosure. Patents exist not only to protect inventors but to advance society by sharing knowledge.
Conflicting Definitions and Legal Interpretations
In recent cases like In re Bhagat, the Federal Circuit’s endorsement of PTAB’s dismissal contradicted earlier Supreme Court statements. The 1952 Patent Act’s inclusion of “process” in § 101, replacing the vague concept of “invention” with § 103, should have rendered previous interpretations like Funk Brothers debatable or limited. The failure to align with these legal foundations showcases a disconnect.
Erosion of Consistency and Responsibility
The Federal Circuit’s retreat from establishing a consistent and predictable test for § 101 has resulted in unpredictability and inconsistency, contrary to the intended purpose of the provision. This departure is exacerbating, rather than resolving, the complexities within patent law.
The Urgent Need for Resolution
The Federal Circuit’s hesitation in recognizing factual versus legal determinations further exacerbates the chaos. Failing to distinguish between factual and legal assessments undermines the foundation of fair and just rulings.
The Unfortunate Fallout
Ultimately, the fallout from the Federal Circuit’s erratic decisions is dire. Instead of aligning with patent law’s objectives, their divergence has sown confusion and hindered progress for individual inventors and industries. This chaos is not a result of faithfully adhering to patent law but stems from neglecting the court’s mandate to harmonize patent laws.
It’s imperative for the Federal Circuit to reevaluate its approach, reestablish coherence, and fulfill its duty to provide a consistent, predictable, and fair patent eligibility framework.