According to a recent report by the USPTO’s Chief Economist, the Federal Circuit’s 2018 Berkheimer decision and the USPTO’s January 2019 patent-eligibility guidance have reduced both the frequency and uncertainty of examiners’ patent-eligibility rejections under and 35 U.S.C. § 101 and the Alice/Mayo test.
Anecdotally, for a number of months it has seemed that examiners were making fewer patent-eligibility rejections than they had been in the years following Alice. The January 2019 guidance in particular, as I wrote at the time, seemed designed to reduce Alice rejections. As this graph illustrates, that has proven to be true. Alice rejections peaked prior to Berkheimer; the USPTO points to its April 2018 memorandum modifying § 101 examination procedure in light of Berkheimer as accelerating the downward trend. But again, the dramatic downturn in patent-eligibility rejections occurred after the January 2019 guidance.
Perhaps even more interesting than the decrease in Alice rejections is the fact that what the USPTO’s report calls “uncertainty in patent examination” has also declined after being increased by Alice. The USPTO’s measure of uncertainty is “variability in patent subject matter eligibility determinations across examiners in the first action stage of examination.” In other words, the January 2019 guidance has had the effect of decreasing the variance of examiners’ rates of patent-eligibility rejections, presumably because not just individual examiners, but the examining corps as a whole, has become more consistent in applying patent-eligibility law.