2106.07 Formulating and Supporting Rejections For Lack Of Subject Matter Eligibility [R-08.2017]
Eligibility rejections must be based on failure to comply with the substantive law under 35 U.S.C. 101 as interpreted by judicial precedent. The substantive law on eligibility is discussed in MPEP § 2106.03 through 2106.06. Examination guidance, training, and explanatory examples discuss the substantive law and establish the policies and procedures to be followed by examiners in evaluating patent applications for compliance with the substantive law, but do not serve as a basis for a rejection. Accordingly, while it would be acceptable for applicants to cite training materials or examples in support of an argument for finding eligibility in an appropriate factual situation, applicants should not be required to model their claims or responses after the training materials or examples to attain eligibility.
When evaluating a claimed invention for compliance with the substantive law on eligibility, examiners should review the record as a whole (e.g., the specification, claims, the prosecution history, and any relevant case law precedent or prior art) before reaching a conclusion with regard to whether the claimed invention sets forth patent eligible subject matter. The evaluation of whether the claimed invention qualifies as patent-eligible subject matter should be made on a claim-by-claim basis, because claims do not automatically rise or fall with similar claims in an application. For example, even if an independent claim is determined to be ineligible, the dependent claims may be eligible because they add limitations amounting to significantly more than the judicial exception recited in the independent claim. Thus, each claim in an application should be considered separately based on the particular elements recited therein.
If the evaluation of the claimed invention results in a conclusion that it is more likely than not that the claim as a whole does not satisfy both criteria for eligibility (Step 1: NO and/or Step 2B: NO), then examiners should formulate an appropriate rejection of that claim under Step 1 and/or Step 2B. The rejection should set forth a prima facie case of ineligibility under the substantive law. The concept of the prima facie case is a procedural tool of patent examination, which allocates the burdens going forward between the examiner and applicant. In particular, the initial burden is on the examiner to explain why a claim or claims are ineligible for patenting clearly and specifically, so that applicant has sufficient notice and is able to effectively respond.
When an examiner determines a claim does not fall within a statutory category (Step 1: NO), the rejection should provide an explanation of why the claim is not directed to one of the four statutory categories of invention. See MPEP § 706.03(a) for information on making the rejection, and MPEP § 2106.03 for a discussion of Step 1 and the statutory categories of invention.
When an examiner determines that a claim is directed to a judicial exception (Step 2A: YES) and does not provide an inventive concept (Step 2B: NO), the rejection should provide an explanation for each part of the Step 2 analysis. For example, the rejection should identify the judicial exception by referring to what is recited (i.e., set forth or described) in the claim and explain why it is considered an exception, identify any additional elements (specifically point to claim features/limitations/steps) recited in the claim beyond the identified judicial exception, and explain the reason(s) that the additional elements taken individually, and also taken as a combination, do not result in the claim as a whole amounting to significantly more than the judicial exception. See MPEP § 2106.04 for a discussion of Step 2A and the judicial exceptions, MPEP § 2106.05 for a discussion of Step 2B and the search for an inventive concept, and MPEP § 2106.07(a) for more information on formulating an ineligibility rejection.
If the evaluation of the claimed invention results in a conclusion that it is more likely than not that the claimed invention falls within a statutory category (Step 1: YES) and is either not directed to a judicial exception (Step 2A: NO) or is directed to a judicial exception and amounts to significantly more than the judicial exception (Step 2B: YES), then the examiner should not reject the claim. When evaluating a response by applicant to a subject matter eligibility rejection, examiners must carefully consider all of applicant’s arguments and evidence presented to rebut the rejection. If applicant properly challenges the examiner’s findings, the rejection should be withdrawn or, if the examiner deems it appropriate to maintain the rejection, a rebuttal must be provided in the next Office action. This is discussed in greater detail in MPEP § 2106.07(b).