2106.04(d)(2) Particular Treatment and Prophylaxis in Step 2A Prong Two

A claim reciting a judicial exception is not directed to the judicial exception if it also recites additional element(s) demonstrating that the claim as a whole integrates the exception into a practical application. One way to demonstrate such integration is when the additional elements apply or use the recited judicial exception to effect a particular treatment or prophylaxis for a disease or medical condition. The application or use of the judicial exception in this manner meaningfully limits the claim by going beyond generally linking the use of the judicial exception to a particular technological environment, and thus transforms a claim into patent-eligible subject matter. Such claims are eligible at Step 2A, because they are not “directed to” the recited judicial exception.

The particular treatment or prophylaxis consideration originated as part of the other meaningful limitations consideration discussed in MPEP § 2106.05(e) and shares the same legal basis in Supreme Court jurisprudence as that consideration. However, recent jurisprudence has provided additional guidance that is especially relevant to only a subset of claims, thus warranting the elevation of the particular treatment or prophylaxis consideration to become a stand-alone consideration in the Step 2A Prong Two analysis. Vanda Pharm. Inc. v. West-Ward Pharm. Int’l Ltd., 887 F.3d 1117, 126 USPQ2d 1266 (Fed. Cir. 2018). The claims in Vanda recited a method of treating a patient having schizophrenia with iloperidone, a drug known to cause QTc prolongation (a disruption of the heart’s normal rhythm that can lead to serious health problems) in patients having a particular genotype associated with poor drug metabolism. 887 F.3d at 1121, 126 USPQ2d at 1269-70. In particular, the claims recited steps of: (1) performing a genotyping assay to determine if a patient has a genotype associated with poor drug metabolism; and (2) administering iloperidone to the patient in a dose range that depends on the patient’s genotype. Id. Although Vanda’s claims recited a law of nature (the naturally occurring relationship between the patient’s genotype and the risk of QTc prolongation) like the claims in Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 566 U.S. 66, 101 USPQ2d 1961 (2012), the Federal Circuit distinguished them from the Mayo claims based on the differences in the administration steps. In particular, the court explained that Mayo’s step of administering a drug to a patient was performed in order to gather data about the recited laws of nature, and this step was thus ancillary to the overall diagnostic focus of the claims. 887 F.3d at 1134-35, 126 USPQ2d at 1280. In contrast, Vanda’s claims used the recited law of nature to more safely treat the patients with the drug, thereby reducing the patient’s risk of QTc prolongation. 887 F.3d at 1135, 126 USPQ2d at 1280. Accordingly, the court held Vanda’s claims eligible at the first part of the Alice/Mayo test (Step 2A) because the claims were not “directed to” the recited judicial exception. 887 F.3d at 1136, 126 USPQ2d at 1281.

Examples of “treatment” and prophylaxis” limitations encompass limitations that treat or prevent a disease or medical condition, including, e.g., acupuncture, administration of medication, dialysis, organ transplants, phototherapy, physiotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and the like. For example, an immunization step that integrates an abstract idea into a specific process of immunizing that lowers the risk that immunized patients will later develop chronic immune-mediated diseases is considered to be a particular prophylaxis limitation that practically applies the abstract idea. See, e.g., Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. v. Biogen IDEC, 659 F.3d 1057, 1066–68, 100 USPQ2d 1492, 1500-01 (Fed. Cir. 2011).

Examiners should keep in mind that in order to qualify as a “treatment” or “prophylaxis” limitation for purposes of this consideration, the claim limitation in question must affirmatively recite an action that effects a particular treatment or prophylaxis for a disease or medical condition. An example of such a limitation is a step of “administering amazonic acid to a patient” or a step of “administering a course of plasmapheresis to a patient.” If the limitation does not actually provide a treatment or prophylaxis, e.g., it is merely an intended use of the claimed invention or a field of use limitation, then it cannot integrate a judicial exception under the “treatment or prophylaxis” consideration. For example, a step of “prescribing a topical steroid to a patient with eczema” is not a positive limitation because it does not require that the steroid actually be used by or on the patient, and a recitation that a claimed product is a “pharmaceutical composition” or that a “feed dispenser is operable to dispense a mineral supplement” are not affirmative limitations because they are merely indicating how the claimed invention might be used.

When determining whether a claim applies or uses a recited judicial exception to effect a particular treatment or prophylaxis for a disease or medical condition, the following factors are relevant.

  • a. The Particularity Or Generality Of The Treatment Or Prophylaxis
  • The treatment or prophylaxis limitation must be “particular,” i.e., specifically identified so that it does not encompass all applications of the judicial exception(s). For example, consider a claim that recites mentally analyzing information to identify if a patient has a genotype associated with poor metabolism of beta blocker medications. This falls within the mental process grouping of abstract ideas enumerated in MPEP § 2106.04(a). The claim also recites “administering a lower than normal dosage of a beta blocker medication to a patient identified as having the poor metabolizer genotype.” This administration step is particular, and it integrates the mental analysis step into a practical application. Conversely, consider a claim that recites the same abstract idea and “administering a suitable medication to a patient.” This administration step is not particular, and is instead merely instructions to “apply” the exception in a generic way. Thus, the administration step does not integrate the mental analysis step into a practical application.

    Examiners may find it helpful to evaluate other considerations such as the mere instructions to apply an exception consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(f)), and the field of use and technological environment consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(h)), when making a determination of whether a treatment or prophylaxis limitation is particular or general.

  • b. Whether The Limitation(s) Have More Than A Nominal Or Insignificant Relationship To The Exception(s)
  • The treatment or prophylaxis limitation must have more than a nominal or insignificant relationship to the exception(s). For example, consider a claim that recites a natural correlation (law of nature) between blood glucose levels over 250 mg/dl and the risk of developing ketoacidosis (a life-threatening medical condition). The claim also recites “treating a patient having a blood glucose level over 250 mg/dl with insulin”. Insulin acts to lower blood glucose levels, and administering insulin to a patient will reduce the patient’s blood glucose level, thereby lowering the risk that the patient will develop ketoacidosis. Thus, in the context of this claim, the administration step is significantly related to the recited correlation between high blood glucose levels and the risk of ketoacidosis. Because insulin is also a “particular” treatment, this administration step integrates the law of nature into a practical application. Alternatively, consider a claim that recites the same law of nature and also recites “treating a patient having a blood glucose level over 250 mg/dl with aspirin.” Aspirin is not known in the art as a treatment for ketoacidosis or diabetes, although some patients with diabetes may be on aspirin therapy for other medical reasons (e.g., to control pain or inflammation, or to prevent blood clots). In the context of this claim and the recited correlation between high blood glucose levels and the risk of ketoacidosis, administration of aspirin has at best a nominal connection to the law of nature, because aspirin does not treat or prevent ketoacidosis. This step therefore does not apply or use the exception in any meaningful way. Thus, this step of administering aspirin does not integrate the law of nature into a practical application.

    Examiners may find it helpful to evaluate other considerations such as 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)), when making a determination of whether a treatment or prophylaxis limitation has more than a nominal or insignificant relationship to the exception(s).

  • c. Whether The Limitation(s) Are Merely Extra-Solution Activity Or A Field Of Use
  • The treatment or prophylaxis limitation must impose meaningful limits on the judicial exception, and cannot be extra-solution activity or a field-of-use. For example, consider a claim that recites (a) administering rabies and feline leukemia vaccines to a first group of domestic cats in accordance with different vaccination schedules, and (b) analyzing information about the vaccination schedules and whether the cats later developed chronic immune-mediated disorders to determine a lowest-risk vaccination schedule. Step (b) falls within the mental process grouping of abstract ideas enumerated in MPEP § 2106.04(a). While step (a) administers vaccines to the cats, this administration is performed in order to gather data for the mental analysis step, and is a necessary precursor for all uses of the recited exception. It is thus extra-solution activity, and does not integrate the judicial exception into a practical application. Conversely, consider a claim reciting the same steps (a) and (b), but also reciting step (c) “vaccinating a second group of domestic cats in accordance with the lowest-risk vaccination schedule.” Step (c) applies the exception, in that the information from the mental analysis in step (b) is used to alter the order and timing of the vaccinations so that the second group of cats has a lower risk of developing chronic immune-mediated disorders. Step (c) thus integrates the abstract idea into a practical application.

    Examiners may find it helpful to evaluate other considerations such as the insignificant extra-solution activity consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(g)), and the field of use and technological environment consideration (see MPEP § 2106.05(g)), when making a determination of whether a treatment or prophylaxis limitation is merely extra-solution activity or a field of use.