Patent Case Summaries - March 2021 #3

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A weekly summary of the precedential patent-related opinions issued by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the opinions designated precedential or informative by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.


In Re: Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, No. 2020-1288 (Fed. Cir. (PTAB) Mar. 25, 2021). Opinion by Reyna, joined by Prost and Lourie.

An examiner rejected the claims in a patent application filed by Stanford because the claims involve ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The claims are directed to computerized statistical methods for determining haplotype phase. A haplotype phase acts as an indication of the parent from whom a gene has been inherited.

On review of the examiner’s rejection, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board affirmed. Applying the Supreme Court’s two-step Alice framework, the Board first determined that the claimed steps are directed to abstract ideas in the form of “mathematical concepts, i.e., mathematical relationship, formulas, equations, and calculations,” as well as “abstract mental processes.” Next, the Board determined that the claims did not recite an inventive concept that transformed the abstract ideas into patent-eligible subject matter. The claimed steps of receiving, storing, and extracting data were well known, routine, and conventional. Stanford appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed. Under Alice step one, the Federal Circuit ruled that the claims are directed to the use of mathematical calculations and statistical modeling. The court noted that “courts have long held that mathematical algorithms for performing calculations, without more, are patent ineligible under § 101.” Here, the alleged improvement in computational accuracy claimed in the patent application “does not qualify as an improvement to a technological process; rather, it is merely an enhancement to the abstract mathematical calculation of haplotype phase itself.”

Under Alice step two, the Federal Circuit concluded that the claims were not transformed into patent-eligible subject matter. “We find no inventive concept that would warrant treating the use of the claimed algorithms and mathematical calculations as patent-eligible subject matter. Further, the recited steps of receiving, extracting, and storing data amount to well-known, routine, and conventional steps taken when executing a mathematical algorithm on a regular computer.”

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