The test for patentable subject matter under Section 101 lies at the heart of patent system. However, very little guidance is provided in the actual statutory language. It comes as no surprise that the “seemingly’ simple provision of patent eligible subject matter has caused a great deal of confusion among inventors, patent attorneys, district court judges, and even the Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.


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Indian tribes ability to shield patents from review at the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (“USPTO”) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) took another blow at the Federal Circuit.  The Federal Circuit in a precedential decision, affirming the decision of the PTAB, held that tribal sovereign immunity cannot be asserted in inter partes review (“IPR”) proceedings before the PTAB.[1]

The Federal Circuit based the decision on two principles extrapolated from Supreme Court decisions.  First, the general proposition that “immunity does not apply where the federal government acting through an agency engages in an investigative action or pursues an adjudicatory agency action.”[2]  Second, the Supreme Court’s recognized distinction between adjudicative proceedings brought by a private party against a state, on the one hand, and federal agency-initiated enforcement proceedings, on the other.  According to the Federal Circuit, immunity may generally be invoked in the private party actions, but not in the federal agency-initiated enforcement proceedings.
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