Request for Comments on Determining Whether a Claim Element Is Well-Understood, Routine, Conventional for Purposes of Subject Matter Eligibility
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) recently issued a decision regarding the inquiry of whether a claim limitation represents well-understood, routine, conventional activities (or elements) to a skilled artisan in the relevant field. Specifically, the Federal Circuit found that whether a claim element, or combination of elements, represents well-understood, routine, conventional activities to a skilled artisan in the relevant field is a question of fact. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has implemented this decision in a memorandum recently issued to the Patent Examining Corps (the Berkheimer memorandum). The Berkheimer memorandum is available to the public on the USPTO's internet website. Examiners had been previously instructed to conclude that an element (or combination of elements) is well-understood, routine, conventional activity only when the examiner can readily conclude that the element(s) is widely prevalent or in common use in the relevant industry. The Berkheimer memorandum now clarifies that such a conclusion must be based upon a factual determination that is supported as discussed in the memorandum. Aditionally the Berkheimer memorandum now also specifies that the analysis for determining whether an element (or combination of elements) is widely prevalent or in common use is the same as the analysis under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) as to whether an element is so well-known that it need not be described in detail in the patent specification. The USPTO is now seeking public comment on its subject matter eligibility guidance, and particularly its guidance in the Berkheimer memorandum to the Patent Examining Corps.