In In re: Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University (“Stanford”), No. 2020-1012 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 11, 2021), the Federal Circuit was presented another opportunity to analyze patent-eligible subject matter. In affirming the § 101 rejection of the claims, the court held the mathematical calculations and statistical modeling improvements to determinations of haplotype phase were not sufficient to make the claims patent eligible.
In 2012, Stanford filed Application No. 13/445,925 (“the ’925 application”) directed to methods and computing systems for determining haplotype phase, a process for determining the parental source of an inherited gene. The invention uses calculations and statistical modeling of large amounts of genetic data to determine haplotype phase. The methods purportedly improved the number of haplotype phase predictions over those in the prior art by incorporating additional data, such as “linkage disequilibrium data” and “transition probability data.” According to Stanford, improved haplotype phasing techniques have the potential to revolutionize personalized health care. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board rejected the claims as covering patent ineligible abstract mathematical algorithms and mental processes and Stanford appealed.
The Federal Circuit held that the ’925 application did not contain patent eligible claims under the Alice framework. Stanford argued that the specific application of the steps was novel and enabled accurate haplotype phasing at 97.9% of all heterozygous positions, whereas the previous methods only achieved approximately 80%.
The court noted that, even accepting the improvements as true, current legal precedent would not protect the claims no matter how groundbreaking the advance. The court held that: (1) the claims were directed to ineligible mathematical algorithms; (2) the claims were not transformed into an eligible form by any specialized computer memory or hardware, whether the elements were taken individually or in combination; and (3) without more, the improvements in the mathematical analysis itself was an insufficient innovation to warrant patent protection.