Section 101 Examples
Example 46: Livestock Management

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 1 to the October 2019 Update: Subject Matter Eligibility Life Sciences & Data Processing Examples to the 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance (“2019 PEG”). The 2019 PEG is now incorporated into the MPEP.

This example should be viewed in light of the introduction that was provided with it.

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Example 46: Livestock Management

This example illustrates the application of Revised Step 2A to claims for obtaining and analyzing identification and behavioral data of livestock animals, such as dairy cattle. Grass tetany (also called grass staggers) is a real nutritional deficiency that affects ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep. Claim 1 is ineligible because it recites a judicial exception (an abstract idea), and the claim as a whole does not integrate the exception into a practical application or amount to significantly more than the exceptions. Claim 2 recites the same judicial exception as claim 1, but is eligible because it recites other meaningful limitations, which, when evaluated in combination, integrate the exceptions into a practical application. Claim 3 recites a different judicial exception (also an abstract idea), and is eligible because it recites other meaningful limitations, which in combination integrate the exception into a practical application. Claim 4 is eligible because it does not recite any judicial exceptions.

Issue spotting

  • Product and process claims
  • Abstract idea exceptions, particularly mental processes
  • Multiple exceptions in the same claim
  • “Integration into a practical application,” particularly the “other meaningful limitations” consideration
  • Claim interpretation: Wherein clauses and contingent limitations

Relevant case law

BACKGROUND

Monitoring the behavior of livestock animals such as dairy cattle in response to environment and physiological conditions can provide vital clues as to their general health. Traditionally, farmers have monitored livestock animal behavior by physically and visually inspecting the animals at regular intervals, however these traditional practices are labor intensive and require the farmer to remain in close proximity to the herd. Further, by the time that an animal’s behavior is immediately identifiable as aberrant by such physical or visual inspection, the animal is often in significant distress and it may be difficult or impossible to quickly return the animal to optimal health. For instance, grass tetany is a serious and sometimes fatal nutritional deficiency associated with low magnesium levels and/or poor magnesium absorption. It often manifests in late winter and early spring, particularly in pasturage that contains high levels of potassium. Early signs of grass tetany may be non-specific, e.g., the affected cow may leave the herd, stop eating, or be more restless or excitable than normal. As the disorder progresses, the symptoms become more noticeable and specific to grass tetany, e.g., a combination of muscle twitching, convulsions, frequent urination, lying down and standing up repeatedly, and/or excessive chewing. When detected early, the affected cow often recovers when provided with a therapeutically effective amount of supplemental salt and minerals, or in some cases, more invasive treatment such as intravenous magnesium solutions. However, this deficiency is often not detected until an advanced stage because the early signs are non-specific, and also require the farmer to visually inspect and evaluate the behavior of each animal in the herd on a continual basis. To that end, applicant has invented a system and method for automatically detecting and tracking the behavior of livestock animals, in particular dairy cattle, that enables the early detection of disease, infection, nutritional deficiencies, parturition, stress, and other conditions of interest.

The system comprises a central computer, a sensor for each animal in the herd, and at least one reader for obtaining information from the sensors. The computer has typical components including a memory and a processor coupled to the memory, and may also include other standard components such as a display, keyboard, network communicator, touch screen, and the like. The processor is programmed with executable instructions including a livestock interface for obtaining animal-specific information, and a monitoring component for comparing, analyzing, and displaying the obtained information. The sensors may take the form of an ear tag, leg band, collar, or other form suitable to permit animal monitoring while not interfering with the animal’s daily activities, and incorporate one or more conventional sensors such as accelerometers, global positioning satellite (GPS) sensors, temperature sensors, and the like, along with a communication component such as a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag or “smart label”. The smart label can contain various types of animal-specific information, including animal identification data, body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data (e.g., the animal chewed for only 30 minutes in the last three hours, and consumed only two pounds of grass), and movement pattern data (e.g., in the last eight hours, the animal spent two hours lying down and six hours walking around the pasture). The reader may be, e.g., a radio frequency reader for collecting the animal-specific information from an animal sensor having a radio frequency transponder when the animal sensor is within proximity to the radio frequency reader, and may be mounted in a variety of locations, for instance inside a milking or feeding barn, in a feeding stall, in a pasture, on a fence or gate, and the like. As the information is collected, it is stored in a herd database so that the farmer has a record of each animal’s past and present behavior. The herd database may also contain information about a plurality of possible behavioral patterns that are either normal or indicative of disease, infection, nutritional deficiencies, parturition, stress, and other conditions of interest, and may further contain data indicative of a cow or heifer’s age, pregnancy status, vaccination history, and the like. The system may also include control mechanisms that are coupled to the readers and the central computers, e.g., to automatically control a gate or a feeding device.

Applicant’s system and method enables a farmer to automatically monitor health and activity in dairy livestock animals, by collecting animal-specific information from a particular animal, comparing and analyzing the collected information with respect to the herd database in order to identify whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern as compared to past behavior of the animal, and then outputting the results of the analysis on a display to enable the farmer to effectively monitor the herd remotely, e.g., by checking the display at night from the farm office or the farm house. For instance, when the herd is on their way into the milking barn at night, animal-specific information from each animal’s sensor is read by the readers and processed by the livestock interface and the monitoring component to evaluate each animal’s behavioral patterns as compared to its past behavioral patterns (and if desired, a set of possible behavioral patterns that are known to occur in a given animal species).

The system may also send signals to control other farm equipment automatically, based on behavioral triggers. For instance, if the analysis results indicate that a particular animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of excess stress, then the system can send a control signal to a sorting gate that is automatically operable to swing in response to a signal from the system so that the stressed animal is separated from the rest of the herd, e.g., into a holding pen, where the farmer or veterinarian can then examine the stressed animal, and treat it if needed. These sorting gates are known, and may have any suitable form, for example a frame and gates that are constructed out of metal tubing and equipped with mechanical, hydraulic, or pneumatic switches that are electronically controlled. Similarly, a reader mounted in a feeding stall can collect information from the animal that enters that particular stall, so that the animal can be identified and its behavioral patterns analyzed. If the analysis results indicate that this particular animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of a particular disease or nutritional deficiency, or even that this particular animal requires more or less food than other animals in the herd, then the system can send a control signal to a feed dispenser to dispense an individualized amount of feed and optional supplements. For instance, if the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of grass tetany, the control signal may signal the feed dispenser to dispense a therapeutically effective amount of supplemental salt and minerals mixed with feed.

CLAIMS

1. A system for monitoring health and activity in dairy livestock animals comprising:
• a memory;
• a display; and
• a processor coupled to the memory programmed with executable instructions, the instructions including
• a livestock interface for obtaining animal-specific information, wherein the animal-specific information comprises animal identification data and at least one of body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data, and movement pattern data; and
• a monitoring component for
(a) comparing the obtained animal-specific information with animal information from a herd database to verify an animal’s identity, and
(b) analyzing the obtained animal-specific information to identify whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern as compared to past behavior of the animal, and
(c) displaying the analysis results for the animal on the display.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the system further comprises
• a feed dispenser that is connected to a feed and supplement supply and is operable to dispense individualized amounts of feed and optional supplements, and
• wherein the monitoring component is further configured for
(d) automatically sending a control signal to the feed dispenser to dispense a therapeutically effective amount of supplemental salt and minerals mixed with feed when the analysis results for the animal indicate that the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of grass tetany.
3. A method for monitoring health and activity in dairy livestock animals comprising:
(a) causing a herd of livestock animals to enter a sorting gate that is automatically operable, wherein each animal in the herd is equipped with an animal sensor having a radio frequency transponder,
(b) for a particular animal in the herd, obtaining, by a radio frequency reader mounted on or near the sorting gate, animal-specific information from the animal sensor when the animal sensor is within proximity to the radio frequency reader, the animal-specific information comprising animal identification data and at least one of body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data, and movement pattern data,
(c) analyzing, by a processor, the obtained animal-specific information from step (ii) with respect to animal information stored in a herd database to identify the animal and to determine whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern as compared to the past behavior of the animal,
(d) automatically operating the sorting gate, by the processor sending a control signal to the sorting gate to route the animal into a holding pen when the analysis results from step (iii) for the animal indicate that the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern, and by the processor sending a control signal to the sorting gate to permit the animal to freely pass through the sorting gate when the analysis results for the animal indicate that the animal is not exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern, and
(e) repeating steps (b) through (d) for each animal in the herd.
4. A system for monitoring health and activity in a herd of dairy livestock animals comprising:
• a memory;
• a processor coupled to the memory programmed with executable instructions, the instructions including a livestock interface for obtaining animal-specific information for a plurality of animals in the herd, wherein the animal-specific information comprises animal identification data and at least one of body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data, and movement pattern data; and
• a herd monitor including
(a) a radio frequency reader for collecting the animal-specific information from a plurality of animal sensors attached to the animals in the herd when the animal sensors are within proximity to the radio frequency reader, each animal sensor having a radio frequency transponder, and
(b) a transmitter for transmitting the collected animal-specific information to the livestock interface.

ANALYSIS

Claim 1 is ineligible.

Claim interpretation: Under the broadest reasonable interpretation, the terms of the claim are presumed to have their plain meaning consistent with the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art. See MPEP 2111. The preamble here does not positively add limitations to the claimed system, or further modify limitations recited in the body of the claim, and thus does not limit the claim. Instead, it indicates an intended use for the claimed system, i.e., the system is intended for use in monitoring the health and activity of dairy livestock animals.

Based on the specification, the terms “memory,” “display,” and “processor” are recognized as representing known classes of structures that can perform the functions set forth in the claim, e.g., the display is claimed as a generic device that performs the generic function of displaying data. The term “animal-specific information” is understood to be information about a particular animal in the herd, and to comprise animal identification data as well as at least one of body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data, and movement pattern data. Based on the plain meaning of the words in the claim, the broadest reasonable interpretation of claim 1 is a system having a memory, display, and processor, wherein the processor is coupled to the memory and programmed with executable instructions in the form of at least two software modules: a livestock interface and a monitoring component. The claim does not impose any limits on how the animal-specific information is obtained by the livestock interface, and thus this step covers any and all possible ways in which this can be done, for instance by a farmer typing the information into the system, or by the system obtaining the information from an animal sensor such as an RFID tag, microchip, or transponder device. The claim also does not impose any limits on how the comparison or analysis is accomplished, and thus it can be performed in any way known to those of ordinary skill in the art.

Step 1: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim falls within any statutory category. MPEP 2106.03. The claim recites a system comprising a combination of concrete devices (a memory, processor, and display), and therefore is a machine, which is a statutory category of invention (Step 1: YES).

Step 2A Prong One: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim recites a judicial exception. As explained in MPEP 2106.04(II) and the October 2019 Update, a claim “recites” a judicial exception when the judicial exception is “set forth” or “described” in the claim. There are no nature- based product limitations in this claim, and thus the markedly different characteristics analysis is not performed. However, the claim still must be reviewed to determine if it recites any other type of judicial exception.

Limitations (a) and (b) recite that the monitoring component is for “comparing the obtained animal- specific information with animal information from a herd database to verify the animal’s identity,” and “analyzing the obtained animal-specific information to identify whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern as compared to past behavior of the animal.” As is evident from the background of this example, the claimed comparison is an observation or evaluation based on the obtained information and the information stored in the herd database, e.g., an observation that Bessie the heifer ate only 15 pounds of hay today as opposed to her usual intake of 20 to 25 pounds of hay, and that her hay intake is normally consistent from day-to-day. The claimed analysis is an evaluation based on the comparison, e.g., an evaluation that Bessie is exhibiting aberrant feeding behavior as compared to her past behavior because her food intake is much lower than normal. These observations or evaluations are acts that can be practically performed in the human mind, similar to the mental thought processes that occur when a pool maintenance worker looks at the water level in the pool in the morning and notices that the water level is much lower than normal, and then determines that because this has never happened before even in similar weather conditions, there might be a leak in the pool because the lowered water level cannot be accounted for by overnight evaporation. Such mental observations or evaluations fall within the “mental processes” grouping of abstract idea set forth in the 2019 PEG. 2019 PEG Section I, 84 Fed. Reg. at 52. The recitation of a processor in this claim does not negate the mental nature of these limitations because the claim here merely uses the processor as a tool to perform the otherwise mental processes. See October Update at Section I(C)(ii). Thus, limitations (a) and (b) recite concepts that fall into the “mental process” grouping of abstract ideas.

As explained in the MPEP and the October 2019 Update, in situations like this where a series of steps recite judicial exceptions, examiners should combine all recited judicial exceptions and treat the claim as containing a single abstract idea for purposes of further eligibility. See MPEP 2106.04 and 2106.05(II). Thus, for purposes of further discussion, this example considers limitations (a) and (b) as a single abstract idea.

Step 2A Prong Two: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim as a whole integrates the recited judicial exception into a practical application of the exception. This evaluation is performed by (a) identifying whether there are any additional elements recited in the claim beyond the judicial exception, and (b) evaluating those additional elements individually and in combination to determine whether the claim as a whole integrates the exception into a practical application. 2019 PEG Section III(A)(2), 84 Fed. Reg. at 54-55. Besides the abstract idea, the claim recites the additional elements of the memory, the display, the processor, the livestock interface, and limitation (c).

The memory, display and processor are recited so generically (no details whatsoever are provided other than that they are a memory, display and processor) that they represent no more than mere instructions to apply the judicial exception on a computer. These limitations can also be viewed as nothing more than an attempt to generally link the use of the judicial exception to the technological environment of a computer. It should be noted that because the courts have made it clear that mere physicality or tangibility of an additional element or elements is not a relevant consideration in the eligibility analysis, the physical nature of these computer components does not affect this analysis. See MPEP 2106.05(I) for more information on this point, including explanations from judicial decisions including Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int'l, 573 U.S. 208, 224-26 (2014).

An evaluation of whether the livestock interface is “insignificant extra-solution activity” is then performed. Note that because the Step 2A Prong Two analysis excludes consideration of whether a limitation is well-understood, routine, conventional activity (2019 PEG Section III(A)(2), 84 Fed. Reg. at 55), this evaluation does not take into account whether or not the livestock interface is well-known. See October 2019 Update at Section III.D. When so evaluated, the livestock interface represents mere data gathering (obtaining the animal-specific information) that is necessary for use of the recited judicial exception (the obtained information is used in the abstract mental process of comparing and analyzing) and is recited at a high level of generality. The livestock interface is thus insignificant extra-solution activity. Limitation (c), which is carried out by the processor and the display, is also an additional element, i.e., the monitoring component in the processor performs the necessary software tasks so that the result of the abstract mental process is displayed on the display. This limitation represents extra- solution activity because it is a mere nominal or tangential addition to the claim. See MPEP 2106.05(g), discussing limitations that the Federal Circuit has considered to be insignificant extra-solution activity, for instance the step of printing a menu that was generated through an abstract process in Apple, Inc. v. Ameranth, Inc., 842 F.3d 1229, 1241-42 (Fed. Cir. 2016) and the mere generic presentation of collected and analyzed data in Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A., 830 F.3d 1350, 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

Even when viewed in combination, the additional elements in this claim do no more than automate the mental processes that the farmer used to perform (e.g., the mental inspection and evaluation of the livestock animals’ behavior), using the computer components as a tool. While this type of automation improves the daily life of farmers (by minimizing or eliminating the need for mentally evaluating the behavior of livestock animals), there is no change to the computers and other technology that are recited in the claim as automating the abstract ideas, and thus this claim cannot improve computer functionality or other technology. See, e.g., Trading Technologies Int’l v. IBG, Inc., 921 F.3d 1084, 1093 (Fed. Cir. 2019) (using a computer to provide a trader with more information to facilitate market trades improved the business process of market trading, but not the computer) and the cases discussed in MPEP 2106.05(a)(I), particularly FairWarning IP, LLC v. Iatric Sys., 839 F.3d 1089, 1095 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (accelerating a process of analyzing audit log data is not an improvement when the increased speed comes solely from the capabilities of a general-purpose computer) and Credit Acceptance Corp. v. Westlake Services, 859 F.3d 1044, 1055 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (using a generic computer to automate a process of applying to finance a purchase is not an improvement to the computer’s functionality). Accordingly, the claim as a whole does not integrate the recited judicial exception into a practical application and the claim is directed to the judicial exception (Step 2A: YES).

Step 2B: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim as a whole amounts to significantly more than the recited exception, i.e., whether any additional element, or combination of additional elements, adds an inventive concept to the claim. MPEP 2106.05. As explained with respect to Step 2A Prong Two, the memory, display and processor are at best the equivalent of merely adding the words “apply it” to the judicial exception. Mere instructions to apply an exception cannot provide an inventive concept. The other additional elements are the livestock interface and limitation (c), both of which are extra-solution activity, which for purposes of Step 2A Prong Two was considered insignificant. Under the 2019 PEG, however, a conclusion that an additional element is insignificant extra-solution activity in Step 2A should be re-evaluated in Step 2B. 2019 PEG Section III(B), 84 Fed. Reg. at 56. At Step 2B, the evaluation of the insignificant extra-solution activity consideration takes into account whether or not the extra-solution activity is well-known. See MPEP 2106.05(g). Here, the recitation of the livestock interface obtaining data is mere data gathering that is recited at a high level of generality, and, as disclosed in the specification, is also well-known. Similarly, limitation (c) is just a nominal or tangential addition to the claim, and displaying data is also well-known. These limitations therefore remain insignificant extra-solution activity even upon reconsideration, and do not amount to significantly more. Even when considered in combination, these additional elements represent mere instructions to apply an exception and insignificant extra-solution activity, which cannot provide an inventive concept (Step 2B: NO). The claim is not eligible.

Practice note: A rejection of claim 1 should identify the exception by pointing to limitations (a) and (b) in the claim and explaining why they describe abstract ideas. The rejection should also explain that the memory, the display, the processor, the livestock interface, and limitation (c) are all additional elements, but that they do not integrate the exception into a practical application or amount to significantly more than the exception because they are mere instructions to apply the exceptions on a computer, and insignificant extra-solution activity.

The examiner may also cite a court decision that supports the identification of limitations (a) and (b) as abstract ideas within the “mental process” grouping in the 2019 PEG. For this claim, suitable citations could include CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc., 654 F.3d 1366, 1372-73 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (comparing intangible data about credit cards is a mental process), University of Utah Research Foundation v. Ambry Genetics Corp., 774 F.3d 755, 763-64 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (comparing information regarding a sample or test subject to a control or target data is a mental process), and Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A., 830 F.3d 1350, 1351-52 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (a generically-recited analysis step is a mental process).

Claim 2 is eligible.

Claim interpretation: Under the broadest reasonable interpretation, the terms of the claim are presumed to have their plain meaning consistent with the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art. See MPEP 2111. Claim 2 depends from claim 1, and adds a wherein clause specifying that the system further comprises a feed dispenser, and that the monitoring component is further configured for performing limitation (d) regarding a control signal that is sent to the feed dispenser. It is important to remember during claim interpretation that no limitations can be disregarded and the mere fact that the limitation appears in a “wherein” clause does not automatically mean that it is not given weight. In this case, when the wherein clause is considered in view of the specification, it is clear that the wherein clause has patentable weight, in that the claim requires the presence of the feed dispenser, and that the monitoring component is further configured for performing limitation (d). Also, because claim 2 is a system claim, its BRI requires the structure for performing the function of limitation (d) to be present, even though that function (sending a control signal) only needs to occur if a condition precedent is met (i.e., when the analysis results for the animal indicate that the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of grass tetany). See MPEP 2111.04 (II) for more information about contingent limitations and how they are interpreted in system claims.

Step 1: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim falls within any statutory category. MPEP 2106.03. Claim 2 depends from claim 1, and thus also recites a machine, which is a statutory category of invention (Step 1: YES).

Step 2A Prong One: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim recites a judicial exception. Claim 2 depends from claim 1, and thus recites the same limitations (a) and (b). For the reasons discussed above for claim 1, these limitations recite abstract ideas that are considered a single abstract idea for purposes of further eligibility analysis, and the analysis must therefore proceed to Step 2A Prong Two.

Step 2A Prong Two: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim as a whole integrates the recited judicial exception into a practical application of the exception. This evaluation is performed by (a) identifying whether there are any additional elements recited in the claim beyond the judicial exception, and (b) evaluating those additional elements individually and in combination to determine whether the claim as a whole integrates the exception into a practical application. 2019 PEG Section III(A)(2), 84 Fed. Reg. at 54-55. Besides the abstract idea, the claim recites the additional elements of the memory, the display, the processor, the livestock interface, limitations (c) and (d), and the feed dispenser.

The memory, display and processor are no more than mere instructions to apply the judicial exceptions on a computer, and the livestock interface and limitation (c) are insignificant extra-solution activity, for the same reasons as stated previously with respect to claim 1. As discussed above for claim 1, even in combination, these additional elements do not change the computers or other technology recited in the claim. Instead, these additional elements automate the mental processes that the farmer used to perform, using the computer components as a tool. Thus, these additional elements do not improve computer functionality.

Limitation (d) specifies that the monitoring component automatically sends a control signal to the feed dispenser to dispense a therapeutically effective amount of supplemental salt and minerals mixed with the feed when the analysis results for the animal indicate that the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of grass tetany. Thus, limitation (d) does not merely link the judicial exceptions to a technical field, but instead adds a meaningful limitation in that it can employ the information provided by the judicial exception (the mental analysis of whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern indicative of grass tetany) to operate the feed dispenser. As explained in the specification, automatically identifying aberrant behavioral patterns and operating farm equipment based on such identification avoids the need for the farmer to evaluate the behavior of each animal in the herd on a continual basis, and then manually take appropriate action for each animal exhibiting aberrant behaviors. Limitation (d) in combination with the feed dispenser enables the control of appropriate farm equipment based on the automatic detection of grass tetany, which goes beyond merely automating the abstract idea. Using the information obtained via the judicial exception to take corrective action such that the monitoring component is operable to control the feed dispenser in a particular way is an “other meaningful limitation” that integrates the judicial exception into the overall livestock management scheme and accordingly practically applies the exception, such that the claim is not directed to the judicial exception (Step 2A: NO). The claim is eligible.

Practice note: Because none of the limitations in claim 2 encompass actually dispensing the therapeutic salt and minerals, there is no limitation in the claim that could invoke the “particular treatment or prophylaxis” consideration. That consideration requires the claim to affirmatively recite an action that effects a particular treatment or prophylaxis for a disease or medical condition. Cf. Ino Therapeutics LLC v. Praxair Distribution Inc., No. 2018-1019, 2019 WL 4023576, at *4 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 27, 2019) (non-precedential) slip op. at 9 and 15 (limitation at issue “does not recite giving any affirmative treatment” and thus did not integrate judicial exception into a practical application). Without such action, there is no treatment or prophylaxis. Nonetheless, as illustrated by the analysis of this claim, the combination of limitation (d) and the feed dispenser invokes the “other meaningful limitation” consideration, and thus makes the claim eligible by integrating the abstract ideas into a practical application.

Claim 3 is eligible.

Claim interpretation: Under the broadest reasonable interpretation, the terms of the claim are presumed to have their plain meaning consistent with the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art. See MPEP 2111. The preamble here does not positively add limitations to the claimed method, or further modify limitations recited in the body of the claim, and thus does not limit the claim. Instead, it indicates an intended use for the claimed method, i.e., the method is intended for use in monitoring the health and activity of dairy livestock animals.

Based on the specification, the terms “sorting gate,” “radio frequency reader” and “processor” are recognized as representing known classes of structures that can perform the functions set forth in the claim, e.g., the processor is programmed to compare and analyze data.

Regarding step (a), the claim does not impose any limits on how the livestock animals are caused to enter the sorting gate, e.g., they could be driven by a farmer, they could be walking through the gate on their own initiative on the way to the milking barn or another pasture, etc. Regarding steps (b) and (c), the claim does not impose any limits on how the radio frequency reader obtains the animal-specific information, or on how the analysis of the information is accomplished, and thus it can be performed in any way known to those of ordinary skill in the art. The term “herd” is understood to require the presence of at least three, and more typically many more, livestock animals, and the term “animal- specific information” is understood to be information about a particular animal in the herd, and to comprise animal identification data as well as at least one of body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data, and movement pattern data.

Regarding step (d), the claim does not impose any limits on how the sorting gate is operated, for example the gate could be equipped with mechanical, hydraulic, or pneumatic switches that are electronically controlled. This step is a contingent limitation, which requires a first action (operating the gate to route the animal into a holding pen) if a first condition occurs (the analysis results for the animal indicate that the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern), and a second action (operating the gate to permit the animal to freely pass through the sorting gate) if a second condition occurs (the analysis results for the animal indicate that the animal is not exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern). The claimed invention may be practiced without the first condition occurring, for instance if no animals exhibit an aberrant behavioral pattern, then no animals will be routed into the holding pen. The claimed invention may also be practiced without the second condition occurring, for instance if all animals exhibit an aberrant behavioral pattern, then all of the animals will be routed into the holding pen and none will pass freely through the sorting gate. However, it is not possible to practice the claimed invention without either the first or the second condition occurring. The claim thus encompasses three separate embodiments: a first embodiment in which only the first condition and first action occur (all animals exhibit aberrant behavioral patterns and are thus routed to the holding pen); a second embodiment in which only the second condition and second action occur (all animals exhibit normal behavioral patterns and are thus permitted to freely pass through the sorting gate); and a third embodiment in which both conditions and both actions occur (some animals exhibit aberrant behavioral patterns and are thus routed to the holding pen, and other animals exhibit normal behavioral patterns and are thus permitted to freely pass through the sorting gate). The broadest reasonable interpretation of the claim encompasses all three of these embodiments. See MPEP 2111.04(II) for more information about contingent limitations and how they are interpreted in process claims.

Practice note: The same claim interpretation must be used when evaluating the claim for compliance with all requirements for patentability (e.g., eligibility, definiteness, novelty, non-obviousness, written description, etc.). Although limitation (c) recites an abstract idea, this limitation still imposes a limit on the claim scope and serves as a patentable distinction that cannot be ignored. In addition, as explained in the analysis for claim 3, the presence of the contingent limitation in step (d) causes this claim to encompass at least three alternative embodiments with respect to how the sorting gate is operated. A prior art reference need only teach one of these embodiments in order to anticipate the claim, assuming that such reference also teaches each of limitations (a)-(c) and (e). See MPEP 2111.04(II) for more information about how to analyze contingent claim limitations.

Step 1: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim falls within any statutory category. MPEP 2106.03. Claim 3 recites a step or act of analyzing animal-specific information, and thus is a process (a series of steps or acts). A process is a statutory category of invention (Step 1: YES).

Step 2A Prong One: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim recites a judicial exception. As explained in MPEP 2106.04(II) and the October 2019 Update, a claim “recites” a judicial exception when the judicial exception is “set forth” or “described” in the claim. Limitation (c) recites a step of “analyzing, by a processor, the obtained animal-specific information with respect to animal information stored in a herd database to identify the animal and to determine whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern as compared to the past behavior of the animal.”

As is evident from the background of this example, the claimed analysis identifies the animal, e.g., observes that the obtained information came from sensor number 22 and thus the animal in question is Daisy. This evaluation also compares the obtained information with the information stored in the herd database for that animal to determine if the animal is exhibiting aberrant behavior as compared to past behavior, e.g., Daisy is exhibiting extreme restlessness and muscle twitching, and has been repeatedly lying down and standing up at an increasing frequency as compared to her usual behavior, and thus her behavior is aberrant and fits the early stages of grass tetany (among other possible behavioral patterns). These observations or evaluations are acts that can be practically performed in the human mind, similar to the mental thought processes that occur when a babysitter who is watching identical twin children looks at a temperature read-out of an oral thermometer and determines whether one child has a fever by mentally evaluating whether a measured temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit is higher than the child’s target temperature of 98.6 degrees, and then verifies the identity of the child by checking the tag sewn into the child’s shirt (e.g., to identify whether that this is the twin who is prone to ear infections) in order to determine whether the elevated temperature is aberrant for this child.

Such mental evaluations fall within the “mental processes” grouping of abstract idea set forth in the 2019 PEG. 2019 PEG Section I, 84 Fed. Reg. at 52. The recitation of a processor in this claim does not negate the mental nature of these limitations because the claim here merely uses the processor as a tool to perform the otherwise mental processes. See October Update at Section I(C)(ii). Thus, limitation (c) recites a concept that fall into the “mental process” grouping of abstract ideas.

Step 2A Prong Two: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim as a whole integrates the recited judicial exception into a practical application of the exception. This evaluation is performed by (a) identifying whether there are any additional elements recited in the claim beyond the judicial exception, and (b) evaluating those additional elements individually and in combination to determine whether the claim as a whole integrates the exception into a practical application. 2019 PEG Section III(A)(2), 84 Fed. Reg. at 54-55. Besides the abstract ideas, the claim recites the additional elements of steps (a), (b), (d) and (e), and the processor that performs step (c).

Steps (a) and (e) are nothing more than an attempt to generally link the use of the judicial exception to the particular field of livestock management, by indicating that the claimed method is applied to a herd of livestock. It thus represents only a mere token acquiescence to limiting the reach of the claim to this field, like Bilski’s identification of the participants in a process for hedging risk as commodity providers and commodity consumers, which the Supreme Court indicated did no more than describe how the abstract idea of hedging risk could be used in the commodities and energy markets. See MPEP 2106.05(h), discussing the limitation in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593, 595 (2010), as well as other examples of field of use limitations. Step (b) represents mere data gathering (obtaining the animal- specific information) that is necessary for use of the recited judicial exception (the obtained information is used in the abstract mental analysis) and is recited at a high level of generality. Further, steps (b) and (c) are also recited at a high level of generality and represent no more than mere instructions to apply the judicial exception using generic computer components (the radio frequency reader and processor).

Even in combination, these additional elements do not change the computers or other technology recited in the claim. Instead, these additional elements automate the mental processes that the farmer used to perform, using the computer components as a tool. See, e.g., Trading Technologies Int’l, Inc. v. IBG LLC, 921 F.3d 1084, 1093 (Fed. Cir. 2019) (using a computer to provide a trader with more information to facilitate market trades improved the business process of market trading, but not the computer) and the cases discussed in MPEP 2106.05(a)(I). While this type of automation improves the daily life of farmers, it does not improve computer functionality.

Step (d) specifies that the processor automatically operates the sorting gate to route the animals in the herd based on the behavior of the animals. As explained previously, the BRI of this limitation encompasses three embodiments: a first embodiment in which step (d) routes animals exhibiting aberrant behavioral patterns into a holding pen; a second embodiment in which step (d) permits animals that are exhibiting normal behavior to freely pass through the gate; and a third embodiment in which step (d) requires that both actions take place (some animals are routed to the holding pen, and other animals are permitted to freely pass through the gate). In all of these embodiments, step (d) does not merely link the judicial exception to a technical field, but instead adds a meaningful limitation in that it employs the information provided by the judicial exception (the mental analysis of whether the animal is exhibiting an aberrant behavioral pattern) to operate the gate control mechanism and route the animals, thus avoiding the need for the farmer to visually evaluate the behavior of each animal in the herd on a continual basis. Additionally, the first and third embodiments (which automatically separate animals exhibiting aberrant behavior from the herd by routing them into a holding pen) also avoid the need for the farmer to manually separate each animal exhibiting aberrant behavior from the herd, and thus permit the farmer to devote more time to the care and treatment (if needed) of the separated animals. Thus, under any of the three embodiments, step (d) goes beyond merely automating the abstract ideas and instead actually uses the information obtained via the judicial exception to take corrective action by operating the gate and routing the animals in a particular way. This is an “other meaningful limitation” that integrates the judicial exception into the overall livestock management scheme and accordingly practically applies the exception, such that the claim is not directed to the judicial exception (Step 2A: NO). The claim is eligible.

Claim 4 is eligible.

Claim interpretation: Under the broadest reasonable interpretation, the terms of the claim are presumed to have their plain meaning consistent with the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art. See MPEP 2111. The preamble here does not positively add limitations to the claimed system, or further modify limitations recited in the body of the claim, and thus does not limit the claim. Instead, it indicates an intended use for the claimed system, i.e., the system is intended for use in monitoring the health and activity of dairy livestock animals. Based on the specification, the terms “memory,” “processor” and “herd monitor” are recognized as representing known classes of structures that can perform the functions set forth in the claim, e.g., the herd monitor has a radio frequency reader for collecting information and a transmitter for sending information, and the processor is programmed to compare and analyze data. The term “animal-specific information” is understood to be information about a particular animal in the herd, and to comprise animal identification data as well as at least one of body position data, body temperature data, feeding behavior data, and movement pattern data. Based on the plain meaning of the words in the claim, the broadest reasonable interpretation of claim 4 is a system having a memory, display, and a herd monitor, wherein the processor is coupled to the memory and programmed with executable instructions in the form of a livestock interface that communicates with the herd monitor.

Step 1: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim falls within any statutory category. MPEP 2106.03. The claim recites a system comprising a combination of concrete devices (a memory, processor, and radio frequency reader), and therefore is a machine, which is a statutory category of invention (Step 1: YES).

Step 2A Prong One: This part of the eligibility analysis evaluates whether the claim recites a judicial exception. As explained in MPEP 2106.04(II) and the October 2019 Update, a claim “recites” a judicial exception when the judicial exception is “set forth” or “described” in the claim. There are no nature- based product limitations in this claim, and thus the markedly different characteristics analysis is not performed. However, the claim still must be reviewed to determine if it recites any other type of judicial exception.

There is no exception recited in the claim. The claim does not recite any abstract ideas, such as a mathematical concept, mental process, or a method of organizing human activity such as a fundamental economic concept or managing interactions between people. The system’s operation, like all computers, is based on mathematical theory, but that underlying operation does not trigger an eligibility analysis because it is not set forth or described in the claim. Similarly, while the claim involves the observation of natural phenomena or laws of nature (the behavior of the livestock animals), such limited involvement does not rise to the level of this claim actually reciting a natural phenomenon or law of nature. See MPEP 2106.04(II) and October Update at Section I(A) for more information about what “recite” means.

Because the claim does not recite a judicial exception, it cannot be directed to one (Step 2A: NO). The claim is eligible.

Practice note: Although claim 4 is eligible, it may be unpatentable for other reasons, and thus it is important to practice compact prosecution by examining each claim for compliance with every statutory requirement for patentability in the initial review of the application. For instance, the examiner should evaluate whether the claim is patentable over prior art, particularly in view of the application’s explanation that the components in the system are typical or standard (e.g., off-the-shelf) computer and sensor components, and they are being used in the claim for their intended purposes.