PTAB Finds Subject Matter Eligibility in Hybrid Trading System
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, marked as “Informative” the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) finding in Ex parte Smith (2018-00064). The matter involved a panel of judges at the PTAB finding “claims directed to a hybrid trading system for concurrently trading securities or derivatives through both electronic and open-outcry trading mechanisms” patent-eligible subject matter under the revised guidance relevant to 35 U.S.C. § 101 (Subject Matter Eligibility) rejections. While finding the decision “Informative” is below a fully “Precedential” decision, these “Informative” decisions help guide the judges on “recurring issues.”
The examiner had initially determined that the claims were directed to “an abstract idea of trading derivatives in a hybrid exchange system which is a concept within the realm of ‘fundamental economic practices’ because the concept relates to the economy and commerce.” See, Ex parte Smith (2018-00064). The examiner determined that under the Alice test, since this was an abstract idea, and that under the Alice step 2 analysis, the claims were directed at generic computer components and did not impose any meaningful limits on the scope of the claims, the claims were, therefore, patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
The board initially identified the claims as being directed to methods of organizing human activity, a category of inventions under 35 U.S.C. § 101 that constitutes an abstract idea, namely fundamental economic practices. The board then reviewed the claims under the revised guidance relevant to 35 U.S.C. § 101 (Subject Matter Eligibility) rejections. Using this guidance, the board determined that the claims were “integrated into a practical application” of the abstract idea, and therefore patent-eligible subject matter.
Interestingly enough, the board’s determination that the claims were “integrated into a practical application” was based primarily on claim elements directed to the use of timers to delay automatically executing market orders (i.e., electronic) to allow “in-crowd” market orders (i.e., from “in the pits”). A majority of the panel of judges for the board did note that that felt these timers were not trivial timers, but it was not a unanimous panel. One judge did dissent, under the idea that these timers, no matter how they were implemented, were not “[T]echnical in nature and do not provide any ‘technical solution to a technical problem’ as contemplated by the Federal Circuit in DDR and Amdocs.” See, Ex parte Smith (2018-00064).
The marking of Ex parte Smith (2018-00064) as “Informative” with respect to patentability is a good sign for applicants in the space of computer-implemented inventions of all sorts, but especially for those in the financial services space. We are seeing more and more positive outcomes from the PTAB with respect to how they plan to leverage the new guidance on subject matter eligibility as it relates to abstract ideas “integrated into a practical application.”
While there have been some interesting developments at the Federal Circuit, which we will post about separately, guidance from the USPTO appears to favor subject matter eligibility for well-tailored claims that involve computer-implemented subject matter.