Section 101 Examples
Example 24: Updating Alarm Limits

This is an example provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for analyzing Section 101 patent subject matter eligibility issues. This example is taken from Appendix 2 of the July 2015 Update on Subject Matter Eligibility, and this example should be viewed in light of the introduction that was provided with it.

The index for all of the examples provided by the Patent and Trademark Office is found on BitLaw's Section 101 Index.

Example 24: Updating Alarm Limits

The following claim was held ineligible by the Supreme Court in Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978) (Flook). The claim is directed to an abstract idea, and has additional elements that do not amount to significantly more than the abstract idea. This exemplary analysis illustrates a rejection of the claim using the 2014 IEG analysis.

Background

Applicant has invented a method for updating alarm limits using mathematical formulae. An “alarm limit” is a number. During catalytic conversion processes, operating conditions such as temperature, pressure, and flow rates are constantly monitored. When any of these “process variables” exceeds a predetermined alarm limit, an alarm may signal the presence of an abnormal condition indicating either inefficiency or perhaps danger. At certain points in the catalytic conversion processes, it may be necessary to update the alarm limits periodically.

Applicant’s patent application describes a method of updating alarm limits consisting of three steps that are known in the art: an initial step which merely measures the present value of the process variable (e.g., the temperature); an intermediate step which calculates an updated alarm‐limit value; and a final step in which the actual alarm limit is adjusted to the updated value. Applicant also describes mathematical formulae used to calculate the updated alarm‐limit value in the second step, which were discovered by applicant and are expressed as

B1= B0(1.0‐F) + PVL(F), where B1 is the new alarm base, B0 is the current alarm base, F is a weighting factor greater than zero and less than 1.0, and PVL is the present value of a process variable (e.g., temperature); and

UAV=B1+K, where UAV is the updated alarm limit, and K is a predetermined alarm offset that represents a margin of safety.

Using the formulae, an operator can calculate an updated alarm limit once he knows the original alarm base, the appropriate margin of safety, the time interval that should elapse between each updating, the current temperature (or other process variable), and the appropriate weighting factor to be used to average the original alarm base and the current temperature. The formulae for updating alarm limits are used in a catalytic conversion processing system; however, applicant’s specification contains no disclosure relating to that system, such as the chemical processes at work, the monitoring of process conditions, the determination of variables in the formulae from process conditions, or the means of setting off an alarm or adjusting an alarm system. Applicant’s specification makes it clear that the method is implemented on a computer for automatic adjustment of alarm settings.

Claim

1. A method for updating the value of at least one alarm limit on at least one process variable involved in a process comprising the catalytic chemical conversion of hydrocarbons wherein said alarm limit has a current value of B0+K wherein B0 is the current alarm base and K is a predetermined alarm offset which comprises:
(1) Determining the present value of said process variable, said present value being defined as PVL;
(2) Determining a new alarm base B1, using the following equation:
B1= B0(1.0‐F) + PVL(F)
where F is a predetermined number greater than zero and less than 1.0;
(3) Determining an updated alarm limit which is defined as B1+K; and thereafter
(4) Adjusting said alarm limit to said updated alarm limit value.

Analysis

Claim 1: Ineligible.

The claim is analyzed for eligibility in accordance with its broadest reasonable interpretation, which here covers performance of the method by hand or by a computer.

The claim recites a series of acts including determining the value of a process variable, calculating a new alarm base and an updated alarm limit, and adjusting the alarm limit to the updated alarm limit value. Thus, the claim is directed to a process, which is one of the statutory categories of invention (Step 1: YES).

The claim is then analyzed to determine whether it is directed to any judicial exception. The claim recites a formula for updating alarm limits that comprises the limitations of calculating the alarm base using the mathematical formula B1= B0(1.0‐F) + PVL(F), and then calculating the updated alarm limit (UAV) using the mathematical formula UAV=B1+K. These limitations set forth a judicial exception, because mathematical relationships have been characterized by the courts as abstract ideas (e.g., the mathematical formula in Mackay Radio). It should be noted that in this case, the formula is novel, yet is an abstract idea. Thus, the claim is directed to an exception (Step 2A: YES).

Next, the claim as a whole is analyzed to determine whether any element, or combination of elements, is sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the exception. The claim recites additional elements/steps of determining the value of an unspecified process variable involved in catalytic chemical conversion of hydrocarbons and adjusting the alarm limit to the calculated updated alarm limit value. The preamble specifies the field of use, which is catalytic conversion of hydrocarbons, but in this case imposes no limits on the process of calculating an alarm limit value using the specified equation.

Taken alone, none of the additional elements amounts to significantly more than the exception. Determining the value of an unspecified process variable is mere data gathering and the claimed adjusting the alarm limit to an updated limit is mere post‐solution activity that could be attached to almost any formula. By failing to explain how the process variable is selected, integrate the formula into any specified chemical processes at work in the catalytic conversion, or specify the means of setting off an alarm or adjusting the alarm limit, the claim fails to improve the recited technological field. The steps merely calculate a result using a novel equation and do not add any meaningful limits on use of the equation. Taken alone or as an ordered combination, these additional elements do not amount to a claim as a whole that is significantly more than the exception. (Step 2B: NO). The claim is not eligible.

For purposes of discussion, it is noted that if the broadest reasonable interpretation of this claim were limited to a computer implementation, adding a generic computer to perform generic functions that are well‐understood, routine and conventional, such as gathering data, performing calculations, and outputting a result would not transform the claim into eligible subject matter. Generic computer‐implementation of the method is not a meaningful limitation that alone can amount to significantly more than the exception. Moreover, when viewed as a whole with such additional elements considered as an ordered combination, the claim modified by adding a generic computer would be nothing more than a purely conventional computerized implementation of applicant’s formula in the general field of industrial chemical processing and would not provide significantly more than the judicial exception itself.

A rejection of claim 1 should identify the exception by pointing to the formula in the claim and explain that the formula is a mathematical relationship similar to those found by the courts to be abstract. The rejection should also identify the additional elements in the claim and explain why they do not amount to significantly more, in this case, because they merely add data gathering and a field of use.