USPTO Provides Guidance For Claims Directed To Computer Readable Media

by Brian Fletcher on January 29, 2010

In a notice dated January 26, 2010, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provided guidance for patent applicants who use claims directed to computer readable media  (also called machine readable media and similar variations).  A problem has developed in the way the USPTO and the courts have interpreted such claims, i.e., they may include non-statutory, transitory propagating signals.

According to the USPTO, the broadest reasonable interpretation of a claim drawn to a computer readable medium typically covers forms of non-transitory tangible media and transitory propagating signals per se in view of the ordinary and customary meaning of computer readable media, particularly when the specification is silent.  See MPEP 2111.01.  When the broadest reasonable interpretation of a claim covers a signal per se, the claim must be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 as covering non-statutory subject matter.  See In re Nuijten, 500 F.3d 1346, 1356-57 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (transitory embodiments are not directed to statutory subject matter) and Interim Examination Instructions for Evaluating Subject Matter Eligibility Under 35 U.S.C. 101, Aug. 24, 2009; p. 2.

The notice states that the USPTO recognizes that applicants may have claims directed to computer readable media that cover signals per se, which the USPTO must reject under 35 U.S.C. 101 as covering both non-statutory subject matter and statutory subject matter.  In an effort to assist the patent community in overcoming a rejection or potential rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 in this situation, the USPTO suggests the following approach:  A claim drawn to such a computer readable medium that covers both transitory and non-transitory embodiments may be amended to narrow the claim to cover only statutory embodiments to avoid a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 by adding the limitation “non-transitory” to the claim.  Cf. Animals – Patentability, Off. Gaz. Pat. Office 24 (April 21, 1987) (suggesting that applicants add the limitation “non-human” to a claim covering a multi-cellular organism to avoid a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101).

According to the notice, such an amendment would typically not raise the issue of new matter, even when the specification is silent, because the broadest reasonable interpretation relies on the ordinary and customary meaning that includes signals per se.  The limited situations in which such an amendment could raise issues of new matter occur, for example, when the specification does not support a non-transitory embodiment because a signal per se is the only viable embodiment such that the amended claim is impermissibly broadened beyond the supporting disclosure.  See, e.g., Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp., 134 F.3d 1473 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

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