Another consideration when determining whether a claim recites significantly more is whether the additional elements add more than insignificant extra-solution activity to the judicial exception. The term “extra-solution activity” can be understood as activities incidental to the primary process or product that are merely a nominal or tangential addition to the claim. Extra-solution activity includes both pre-solution and post-solution activity. An example of pre-solution activity is a step of gathering data for use in a claimed process, e.g., a step of obtaining information about credit card transactions, which is recited as part of a claimed process of analyzing and manipulating the gathered information by a series of steps in order to detect whether the transactions were fraudulent. An example of post-solution activity is an element that is not integrated into the claim as a whole, e.g., a printer that is used to output a report of fraudulent transactions, which is recited in a claim to a computer programmed to analyze and manipulate information about credit card transactions in order to detect whether the transactions were fraudulent.
As explained by the Supreme Court, the addition of insignificant extra-solution activity does not amount to an inventive concept, particularly when the activity is well-understood or conventional. Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584, 588-89, 198 USPQ 193, 196 (1978). In Flook, the Court reasoned that “[t]he notion that post-solution activity, no matter how conventional or obvious in itself, can transform an unpatentable principle into a patentable process exalts form over substance. A competent draftsman could attach some form of post-solution activity to almost any mathematical formula”. 437 U.S. at 590; 198 USPQ at 197; Id. (holding that step of adjusting an alarm limit variable to a figure computed according to a mathematical formula was “post-solution activity”). See also Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs. Inc., 566 U.S. 66, 79, 101 USPQ2d 1961, 1968 (2012) (additional element of measuring metabolites of a drug administered to a patient was insignificant extra-solution activity). Examiners should carefully consider each claim on its own merits, as well as evaluate all other relevant Step 2B considerations, before making a determination of whether an element (or combination of elements) is insignificant extra-solution activity. In particular, evaluation of the particular machine and particular transformation considerations (see MPEP § 2106.05(b) and (c), respectively), the well-understood, routine, conventional consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(d)), and the field of use and technological environment consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(h)) may assist examiners in making a determination of whether an element (or combination of elements) is insignificant extra-solution activity.
This consideration is similar to factors used in past Office guidance (for example, the now superseded Bilski and Mayo analyses) that were described as mere data gathering in conjunction with a law of nature or abstract idea. When determining whether an additional element is insignificant extra-solution activity, examiners may consider the following:
(1) Whether the extra-solution limitation is well known. See Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593, 611-12, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1010 (2010) (well-known random analysis techniques to establish the inputs of an equation were token extra-solution activity); Flook, 437 U.S. at 593-95, 198 USPQ at 197 (a formula would not be patentable by only indicating that is could be usefully applied to existing surveying techniques); Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Erie Indem. Co., 850 F.3d 1315, 1328-29, 121 USPQ2d 1928, 1937 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (the use of a well-known XML tag to form an index was deemed token extra-solution activity).
(2) Whether the limitation is significant (i.e. it imposes meaningful limits on the claim such that it is not nominally or tangentially related to the invention). See Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 772 F.3d 709, 715-16, 112 USPQ2d 1750, 1755 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (restricting public access to media was found to be insignificant extra-solution activity); Apple, Inc. v. Ameranth, Inc., 842 F.3d 1229, 1242, 120 USPQ2d 1844, 1855 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (in patents regarding electronic menus, features related to types of ordering were found to be insignificant extra-solution activity).
(3) Whether the limitation amounts to necessary data gathering and outputting, (i.e., all uses of the recited judicial exception require such data gathering or data output). See Mayo, 566 U.S. at 79, 101 USPQ2d at 1968; OIP Techs., Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., 788 F.3d 1359, 1363, 115 USPQ2d 1090, 1092-93 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (presenting offers and gathering statistics amounted to mere data gathering).
Below are examples of activities that the courts have found to be insignificant extra-solution activity.
- • Mere Data Gathering:
- i. Performing clinical tests on individuals to obtain input for an equation, In re Grams, 888 F.2d 835, 839-40; 12 USPQ2d 1824, 1827-28 (Fed. Cir. 1989);
- ii. Testing a system for a response, the response being used to determine system malfunction, In re Meyers, 688 F.2d 789, 794; 215 USPQ 193, 196-97 (CCPA 1982);
- iii. Presenting offers to potential customers and gathering statistics generated based on the testing about how potential customers responded to the offers; the statistics are then used to calculate an optimized price, OIP Technologies, 788 F.3d at 1363, 115 USPQ2d at 1092-93;
- iv. Obtaining information about transactions using the Internet to verify credit card transactions, CyberSource v. Retail Decisions, Inc., 654 F.3d 1366, 1375, 99 USPQ2d 1690, 1694 (Fed. Cir. 2011);
- v. Consulting and updating an activity log, Ultramercial, 772 F.3d at 715, 112 USPQ2d at 1754; and
- vi. Determining the level of a biomarker in blood, Mayo, 566 U.S. at 79, 101 USPQ2d at 1968. See also PerkinElmer, Inc. v. Intema Ltd., 496 Fed. App’x 65, 73, 105 USPQ2d 1960, 1966 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (assessing or measuring data derived from an ultrasound scan, to be used in a diagnosis).
- • Selecting a particular data source or type of data to be manipulated:
- i. Limiting a database index to XML tags, Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Erie Indem. Co., 850 F.3d at 1328-29, 121 USPQ2d at 1937;
- ii. Taking food orders from only table-based customers or drive-through customers, Ameranth, 842 F.3d at 1241-43, 120 USPQ2d at 1854-55;
- iii. Selecting information, based on types of information and availability of information in a power-grid environment, for collection, analysis and display, Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A., 830 F.3d 1350, 1354-55, 119 USPQ2d 1739, 1742 (Fed. Cir. 2016); and
- iv. Requiring a request from a user to view an advertisement and restricting public access, Ultramercial, 772 F.3d at 715-16, 112 USPQ2d at 1754.
- • Insignificant application:
- i. Cutting hair after first determining the hair style, In re Brown, 645 Fed. App’x 1014, 1016-1017 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (non-precedential); and
- ii. Printing or downloading generated menus, Ameranth, 842 F.3d at 1241-42, 120 USPQ2d at 1854-55.
Some cases have identified insignificant computer implementation as an example of insignificant extra-solution activity. See e.g., Fort Props., Inc. v. Am. Master Lease LLC, 671 F.3d 1317, 1323-24, 101 USPQ2d 1785, 1789-90 (Fed. Cir. 2012); Bancorp Servs., LLC v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Canada, 687 F.3d 1266, 1280-81, 103 USPQ2d 1425, 1434-35 (Fed. Cir. 2012). Other cases have considered these types of limitations as mere instructions to apply a judicial exception. See MPEP § 2106.05(f) for more information about insignificant computer implementation.
For claim limitations that add insignificant extra-solution activity to the judicial exception (e.g., mere data gathering in conjunction with a law of nature or abstract idea), examiners should explain in an eligibility rejection why they do not meaningfully limit the claim. For example, an examiner could explain that adding a final step of storing data to a process that only recites computing the area of a space (a mathematical relationship) does not add a meaningful limitation to the process of computing the area. For more information on formulating a subject matter eligibility rejection, see MPEP § 2106.07(a).