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Prometheus Fall Out: The SmartGene Case

Prometheus Fall Out: The SmartGene Case

The SmartGene v. Advanced Biological Laboratories case is the first fallout from the Supreme Court’s Prometheus decision.  Advanced Biological Laboratories (ABL) owns two patents (6,081,786 6,188,988) directed to computerized methods of guiding the selection of therapeutic treatment regimens, particularly for HIV.  The patents explain that the new treatment options coming on line, the complex nature of the disease and how patients react to the disease and the use of multiple different treatments that can cause complex drug interactions results in the need for computerized system to help doctors treat their patients.  The background section points to academic papers and patents directed to expert systems on this problem.  So clearly other people felt there was a need for such a system.

The claims are directed to three expert systems on a computer and inputting data about the patient.  The computer then ranks the treatment options and provides advisory information to the doctor about the treatment options.

The courts holding was

 The patents-in-dispute do no more than describe just such an abstract mental process engaged in routinely, either entirely within a physician’s mind, or potentially aided by other resources in the treatment of patients.

The Court also finds that the patents-in-dispute are invalid under the “machine-or-transformation” or “MOT” test utilized in some of the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent.

Abstract Mental Process

The claims are clearly directed to a computer.  The computer is running three separate expert systems and provides a rank list of therapeutic options and advisory information.  Computers are not abstract mental processes.  They use electricity, they cause the state of transistors to change, they cause electrons to change position.  This is not an abstract mental process.  Judge Beryl A. Howell, the judge in this case needs to have her head examined if she believes a computer is an abstract mental process.  But what can you expect from someone who got their undergraduate degree in philosophy and probably never took a science or math course in college.  For Judge. Howell’s edification, I will point out that a computer is a general purpose electronic circuit.  Software is a way of wiring this general purpose electronic circuit.  So when a software program is executed it changes the wiring of the electronic circuit and makes it a specific electronic circuit.  Wiring an electronic circuit is not an abstract mental process.  This is just another depressing example of why we need courts and judges who understand technology and patent law in resolving patent disputes.

Because so many people, including patent attorneys appear to be confused about what an abstract mental process is, I will write a claim below that would fit the definition.

 A method of solving an integral in closed form, comprising the steps of :

mentally reviewing an integral to be solved;

selecting mentally one of a plurality of techniques for solving the integral; and

applying mentally a selected technique from one of the plurality of techniques to the integral, wherein the plurality of techniques include integration by substitution and integration by parts.


The invention clearly involves a computer.  A computer is a machine.  When an instance of code is executed by a computer it is a specific purpose electronic circuit.  A specific purpose electronic circuit converts electricity into states of transistors – thus the transformation prong is also satisfied.  But an attorney who has never taken a class in physics, let alone electrical engineering would not have this basic knowledge.

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