We’ve all heard about the issue - the US is in desperate need of more computer scientists. So why does the USPTO constantly tell us that computer science is merely an “abstract” idea and not worthy of patent protection (at least as compared to cat toys which generally do not receive such rejections)?
Consider a recent PTAB decision (Sn 15/004,725) regarding a GE Digital invention in the field of extracting ontological information from text. The invention purportedly enabled a computer to extract semantic meaning from text. Such language processing systems are a major focus for development as we continually increase our use of natural language interactions with our phones, cars, personal digital assistants, etc.
Claim 1 set forth a classification approach as follows:
Classifiers are a classic subject in Computer Science, and especially relevant to machine learning. Specifically, one area of classification relates to a supervised learning approach in which the computer program learns from data input and then uses that learning to classify new observations. Simply put - classifiers are a critical element to human machine interfaces. Without such classification, we’d get no response from Siri when we ask her a question. So tell a baby boomer that classifiers are abstract where asking Siri is the only way they know how to look up information on the internet, and they are likely to tell you to stop talking nonsense.
In GE’s case, the PTAB threw out the Examiner’s rejection of claim 1 under 101 (because it improperly relied on the claims covering mathematical calculation), but nevertheless entered a new ground of rejection under Section 101 because the claims were merely directed to an abstract idea. According to the Board, “the recited functions could be performed by a human with pen and paper.” The fact that the claims required a processor and instructions did not seem to matter on this point, thanks to Electric Power. From this point, the claims were doomed under Alice as it is clear the PTAB is going to continue to apply Section 101 with ferocity.
Take a step back and consider the juxtaposition of these two realities: (1) the world heralds the importance and practical real-world impact to our society created through Computer Science; and (2) Computer Science inventions are repeatedly labeled as “abstract” and thus not eligible for patent protection by the USPTO. Seems odd.