Medical inventions and technology are often developed to gather and process data more quickly. It can certainly be an advance over old technology. But is that patentable?

Guidance to answer that question can be found in a recent Federal Circuit decision IBM v. Zillow.

In one of the IBM patents, a user draws an area on a map to select that area, and then the system filters and displays data limited to the selected area. Another IBM patent, the system displays objects in visually distinct layers. Objects of interest are brought to the top of the display.

The Court explained that patentability depends on whether the patent claims are for "improvements in computer capabilities" or a system in which "computers are invoked merely as a tool." Moreover, "'improving a user's experience while using a computer application is not, without more, sufficient to render the claims' patent-eligible."

The Court continued by pointing out that "[i]dentifying, analyzing, and presenting certain data to a user is not an improvement specific to computing. 'Merely requiring the selection and manipulation of information - to provide a "humanly comprehensible" amount of information useful for users . . . - by itself does not transform the otherwise-abstract processes of information collection and analysis [into patent eligible matter]."

IBM's "map and list may speed up the process, but 'mere automation of manual processes using generic computers does not constitute a patentable improvement in computer technology."

Importantly, the IBM technology was not patentable because the patent claims described "required functions (presenting, receiving, selecting, synchronizing), without explaining how to accomplish any of the tasks."


A key point is that using a generic computer to speed up a manual process of collecting/analyzing medical data will not likely provide a patentable invention. However, a new and non-obvious process of collecting/analyzing medical data may be patentable. Alternatively, or in addition, if the hardware of the generic computer is improved, which leads to improved data collection/analysis, the improvement may be patentable.

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Yes, but it remains challenging. The patent laws provide that any new and useful process can be patented. However, laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas cannot be patented. Yet, applic