Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BPAI finds statutory subject matter in Chen

Business Calendar & ScheduleIn Ex Parte Chen et al, No. 2009-013814 (BPAI Jan 22, 2012), IBM Corporation brought US Patent Application 11/458,435 before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. The invention involved a method, apparatus and computer program product for controlling and viewing appointments in a calendar and schedule system.

Claim 9 for example read as follows:
9. A calendaring and scheduling … data processing system comprising: 
[calendaring and scheduling] core logic coupled to a data store of events; 
a [calendaring and scheduling] user interface; and, 
access control logic comprising program code enabled to determine whether to include portions of events in the data store of events in a shared calendar view of the [calendaring and scheduling] user interface on a field-by-field basis according to field level access attributes for the events, wherein 
a description of the event is suppressed from display in the shared calendar view; and,
the shared calendar view includes a time range and type for the event.

Just a computer program
During examination the Examiner found that claim 9 did not specify that the claimed invention includes hardware. Therefore, the language of the claim merely describes a computer program per se.

Use of a device
The Appellants argued that claim 9 was not directed to software per se. They said that the claimed calendaring and scheduling core logic coupled to a data store implies both functionality and structure (hardware). The claimed user interface is necessarily a device that interfaces with a user for calendaring and scheduling.

The Board agreed, finding error in the Examiner's rejection. Claim 9 recites, inter alia, a data processing system, calendaring and scheduling core logic coupled to a data store of events, a calendaring and scheduling user interface, and access control logic.

The core logic coupled to a data store of events implies structure for example hardware.

The user interface amounts to a device or machine because it implicates the use of a computer monitor that allows a prospective user to interface with the core logic and the data store.

The claimed features include hardware (database and machine), therefore the claim doesn't merely describe software per se.

Further steps
The Board reversed the Examiner's decision to reject claim 9 and dependent claims as being directed to non-statutory subject matter. However the Examiner's rejection against all but two claims based on prior art was affirmed. So claim 9 ended up invalid anyway.

Photo courtesy of author photosteve101 under Creative Commons licence.

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