When determining whether a claim recites significantly more than a judicial exception, examiners should consider whether the judicial exception is applied with, or by use of, a particular machine. “The machine-or-transformation test is a useful and important clue, and investigative tool” for determining whether a claim is patent eligible under § 101. Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593, 604, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2010).
It is noted that while the application of a judicial exception by or with a particular machine is an important clue, it is not a stand-alone test for eligibility. Id.
All claims must be evaluated for eligibility using the two-part test from Alice/Mayo. If a claim passes the Alice/Mayo test (i.e., is not directed to an exception at Step 2A, or amounts to significantly more than any recited exception in Step 2B), then the claim is eligible even if it fails the machine-or-transformation test (“M-or-T test”). Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593, 604, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2010) (explaining that a claim may be eligible even if it does not satisfy the M-or-T test); McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games Am. Inc., 837 F.3d 1299, 1315, 120 USPQ2d 1091, 1102 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“[T]here is nothing that requires a method ‘be tied to a machine or transform an article’ to be patentable”). And if a claim fails the Alice/Mayo test (i.e., is directed to an exception at Step 2A and does not amount to significantly more than the exception in Step 2B), then the claim is ineligible even if it passes the M-or-T test. DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245, 1256, 113 USPQ2d 1097, 1104 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“[I]n Mayo, the Supreme Court emphasized that satisfying the machine-or-transformation test, by itself, is not sufficient to render a claim patent-eligible, as not all transformations or machine implementations infuse an otherwise ineligible claim with an ‘inventive concept.’”).
Examiners may find it helpful to evaluate other Step 2B considerations such as the mere instructions to apply an exception consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(f)), the insignificant extra-solution activity consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(g)), and the field of use and technological environment consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(h)), before making a determination of whether an element (or combination of elements) is a particular machine. For information on the definition of the term “machine,” see MPEP § 2106.03.
When determining whether a machine recited in a claim provides significantly more, the following factors are relevant.
I. THE PARTICULARITY OR GENERALITY OF THE ELEMENTS OF THE MACHINE OR APPARATUS
The particularity or generality of the elements of the machine or apparatus, i.e., the degree to which the machine in the claim can be specifically identified (not any and all machines). One example of applying a judicial exception with a particular machine is Mackay Radio & Tel. Co. v. Radio Corp. of America, 306 U.S. 86, 40 USPQ 199 (1939). In this case, a mathematical formula was employed to use standing wave phenomena in an antenna system. The claim recited the particular type of antenna and included details as to the shape of the antenna and the conductors, particularly the length and angle at which they were arranged. 306 U.S. at 95-96; 40 USPQ at 203. Another example is Eibel Process, in which gravity (a law of nature or natural phenomenon) was applied by a Fourdrinier machine (which was understood in the art to have a specific structure comprising a headbox, a paper-making wire, and a series of rolls) arranged in a particular way to optimize the speed of the machine while maintaining quality of the formed paper web. Eibel Process Co. v. Minn. & Ont. Paper Co., 261 U.S. 45, 64-65 (1923).
It is important to note that a general purpose computer that applies a judicial exception, such as an abstract idea, by use of conventional computer functions does not qualify as a particular machine. Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 772 F.3d 709, 716-17, 112 USPQ2d 1750, 1755-56 (Fed. Cir. 2014). See also TLI Communications LLC v. AV Automotive LLC, 823 F.3d 607, 613, 118 USPQ2d 1744, 1748 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (mere recitation of concrete or tangible components is not an inventive concept); Eon Corp. IP Holdings LLC v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 785 F.3d 616, 623, 114 USPQ2d 1711, 1715 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (noting that Alappat’s rationale that an otherwise ineligible algorithm or software could be made patent-eligible by merely adding a generic computer to the claim was superseded by the Supreme Court’s Bilski and Alice Corp. decisions). If applicant amends a claim to add a generic computer or generic computer components and asserts that the claim recites significantly more because the generic computer is ‘specially programmed’ (as in Alappat, now considered superseded) or is a ‘particular machine’ (as in Bilski), the examiner should look at whether the added elements provide significantly more than the judicial exception. Merely adding a generic computer, generic computer components, or a programmed computer to perform generic computer functions does not automatically overcome an eligibility rejection. Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S. Ct. 2347, 2358-59, 110 USPQ2d 1976, 1983-84 (2014).
II. WHETHER THE MACHINE OR APPARATUS IMPLEMENTS THE STEPS OF THE METHOD
Integral use of a machine to achieve performance of a method may provide significantly more, in contrast to where the machine is merely an object on which the method operates, which does not provide significantly more. See CyberSource v. Retail Decisions, 654 F.3d 1366, 1370, 99 USPQ2d 1690, 1694 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (“We are not persuaded by the appellant’s argument that claimed method is tied to a particular machine because it ‘would not be necessary or possible without the Internet.’ . . . Regardless of whether “the Internet” can be viewed as a machine, it is clear that the Internet cannot perform the fraud detection steps of the claimed method”). For example, as described in MPEP § 2106.05(f), additional elements that invoke computers or other machinery merely as a tool to perform an existing process will generally not amount to significantly more than a judicial exception. See, e.g., Versata Development Group v. SAP America, 793 F.3d 1306, 1335, 115 USPQ2d 1681, 1702 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (explaining that in order for a machine to add significantly more, it must “play a significant part in permitting the claimed method to be performed, rather than function solely as an obvious mechanism for permitting a solution to be achieved more quickly”).
III. WHETHER ITS INVOLVEMENT IS EXTRA-SOLUTION ACTIVITY OR A FIELD-OF-USE
Whether its involvement is extra-solution activity or a field-of-use, i.e., the extent to which (or how) the machine or apparatus imposes meaningful limits on the claim. Use of a machine that contributes only nominally or insignificantly to the execution of the claimed method (e.g., in a data gathering step or in a field-of-use limitation) would not provide significantly more. See Bilski, 561 U.S. at 610, 95 USPQ2d at 1009 (citing Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584, 590, 198 USPQ 193, 197 (1978)), and CyberSource v. Retail Decisions, 654 F.3d 1366, 1370, 99 USPQ2d 1690 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (citations omitted) (“[N]othing in claim 3 requires an infringer to use the Internet to obtain that data. The Internet is merely described as the source of the data. We have held that mere ‘[data-gathering] step[s] cannot make an otherwise nonstatutory claim statutory.’” 654 F.3d at 1375, 99 USPQ2d at 1694 (citation omitted)). See MPEP § 2106.05(g) & (h) for more information on insignificant extra-solution activity and field of use, respectively.