On August 23rd, the Federal Circuit upheld in part and reversed in part a decision from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB or Board) concerning Ethicon’s patent on a robotic surgical tool, holding that the Board’s finding of no motivation to combine is not supported by substantial evidence. In doing so, the court determined the PTAB “went too far” in its holding of non-obviousness by requiring Intuitive to specifically identify a preexisting surgical device performing as many functions as required by the Ethicon patent; it was enough that the prior art established such a device was “at least possible.”
Nearly seven years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, subject matter eligibility for patent claims under 35 U.S.C § 101 remains a moving target. In Alice, the Court found claims for a computerized escrow arrangement ineligible for patenting because they were directed to the abstract idea of “intermediated settlement” and did not recite an inventive concept that could impart eligibility under Section 101. While the Alice case focused on a software invention, a few recent lower court decisions suggest that, in certain circumstances, medical device patents may not be immune from similar patent eligibility challenges.