When to Apply Printed Matter Doctrine to Communications and Program Code

John Kong | May 15, 2024


Date of Decision: May 3, 2024

Panel: : Lourie, Chen, and Stoll


            The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s preclusion of patentable weight to the limitations involving “encrypted communications” and “program code” under the printed matter doctrine.  The court determined that neither “encrypted communications” nor “program code” constitute “printed matter” because these terms do not recite the communicative content or informational content of the “encrypted communications” and “program code.”

Procedural History

            This is a consolidated appeal of several Final Written Decisions in several inter partes reviews (IPRs) in which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the Board) found numerous claims in U.S. Patent Nos. 8,539,047, 9,059,969, and 9,774,703 unpatentable.  Most of the Board’s unpatentability determinations were affirmed.  However, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s unpatentability of a subset of the claims due to an error in the Board’s application of the printed matter doctrine.


Representative claims 4 and 7 of the ‘969 patent (and claims 1 and 2 from which they depend) are as follows:

1.  A portable device configured to communicate with a terminal comprising a processor, an input component, an output component, a network communication interface, and a memory configured to store executable program code, including first program code which, when executed by the terminal processor, is configured to present an interactive user interface on the terminal output component, and second program code which, when executed by the terminal processor, is configured to provide a communications node on the terminal to facilitate communications to the portable device and to a communications network node through the terminal network communication interface, the portable device comprising:

(a) an external communication interface configured to enable the transmission of communications between the portable device and the terminal;

(b) a processor; and

(c) a memory having executable program code stored thereon, including:

(1) third program code which, when executed by the portable device processor, is configured to provide a communications node on the portable device to coordinate with the communications node on the terminal and establish a communications link between the portable device and the terminal, and facilitate communications to the terminal and to a communications network node through the terminal network communication interface; and

(2) fourth program code which is configured to be executed by the portable device processor in response to a communication received by the portable device resulting from user interaction with the interactive user interface;

wherein the portable device is configured to facilitate communications through the communication node on the terminal and the terminal network interface to a communications network node.

2. The portable device according to claim 1, wherein the fourth program code which, when executed by the portable device processor, is configured to cause a communication to be transmitted to the communication network node.

4. The portable device according to claim 2, wherein the communication caused to be transmitted to the communication network node facilitates the transmission of encrypted communications from the communication network node to the terminal.

7. The portable device according to claim 2, wherein the communication network node comprises a database and the communication caused to be transmitted to the communication network node facilitates the download of program code on the communication network node to the terminal.

The Board held that certain claims were anticipated by one of the cited references because no patentable weight was given to limitations that recite “encrypted communication” and “program code” (illustrative claims 4 and 7 reproduced above) under the printed matter doctrine.

The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s determination of unpatentability of such claims because the Board erred in applying the printed matter doctrine to “encrypted communication” and “program code.”

Refresher on The Printed Matter Doctrine:

  1. “printed matter” is not patentable subject matter, and limitations that recite “printed matter” are not given patentable weight
  2. while this doctrine started out with literally “printed” material (information printed on paper), it has evolved over time to encompass “conveyance of information using any medium,” and “any information claimed for its communicative content”
  3. the printed matter doctrine prohibits patenting printed matter unless it is “functionally related” to its “substrate” (“substate” includes the structural elements of the claim)
  4. To determine the existence of a functional relationship, the court considers whether the printed matter merely informs people of the claimed information, or whether it instead interacts with the other elements of the claim to create a new functionality in a claimed device or to cause a specific action in a claimed process.

The Federal Circuit applied a two-step test to determine whether a limitation should be accorded patentable weight under the printed matter doctrine. 

Step 1:  determine whether the limitation in question is directed toward printed matter.  The focus is on whether the limitation is claiming certain informational content or “matter claimed for what it communicates.”

Examples of “printed matter” provided by the court include: an FDA label providing dosage instructions for using a medical product; a label instructing a patient to take a drug with food; instructions on how to perform a DNA test; and numbers printed on a wristband.

Only if the limitation in question is determined to be “printed matter,” then Step 2 asks “whether the printed matter nevertheless should be given patentable weight … if the claimed informational content has a functional or structural relation to the substrate.”

Here, claims 4 and 7 are illustrative of the issue regarding application of the printed matter doctrine.  Claim 4 depends from claim 2 which causes a communication to be transmitted from the portable device to a communication network node.  Claim 4 recites “wherein the communication caused to be transmitted to the communication network node facilitates the transmission of encrypted communications from the communication network node to the terminal.”  The Board held that the “encrypted communications” in claim 4 claimed only the communicative content (i.e., “printed matter”) whose transmission is being facilitated and there is “no functional relationship of the encrypted data to the communication carrying it.” 

However, the Federal Circuit disagreed.  The court clarified that “printed matter is matter that is claimed for its communicative content – i.e., the content specifically being communicated.”

The fact that there is a communication itself is not content; content is what the communication actually says.  Nor is the form of a communication, such as whether the communication is encrypted, considered to be content.  Printed matter encompasses what is communicated – the content or information being communicated – rather than the act of a communication itself.

With regard to claim 7, the Board likewise applied the printed matter doctrine to decline giving patentable weight to the “program code” limitation.  Claim 7 also depends from claim 2 and recites that “the communication caused to be transmitted to the communication network node facilitates the download of program code on the communication network node to the [portable device’s] terminal.”  The Board held that the “program code” is printed matter “because it claims the content of the information that is downloaded” and that downloaded code has no functional relationship with the portable device or the portable device’s terminal.

Again, the Federal Circuit disagreed.  The court found that the “program code” is not being claimed for its communicative content.  No informational content contained within the “program code” is being claimed.  Nothing is recited about the contents of the claimed “program code.”


For application of the printed matter doctrine to preclude patentable weight for a limitation containing the printed matter, the focus is on whether the claim reciting, or relies on, the communicative content of that “printed matter” – “the content specifically being communicated.”  This case draws a clear distinction between “communication” or “program code” versus the communicative content or information being communicated or conveyed in that “communication” or “program code.”

Software Patents Demand Specific, Technologically Grounded Claims

Bo Xiao | May 3, 2024

AI Visualize, Inc. vs. Nuance Communications, Inc. and Mach7 Technologies, Inc.

Decided: April 4, 2024

Before: MOORE, Chief Judge, REYNA, and HUGHES, Circuit Judges.


      The Federal Circuit upheld a district court decision that dismissed AI Visualize’s patent infringement lawsuit against Nuance Communications and Mach7 Technologies. The court agreed with the lower court’s finding that the patents claimed patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101, focusing on abstract ideas without enough inventive concept to warrant patent protection.


      AI Visualize asserted that Nuance Communications and Mach7 Technologies had infringed on its patents related to the visualization of medical scans through a web-based portal. The patents at issue include four patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 8,701,167; 9,106,609; 9,438,667; and 10,930,397. All these patents share a common specification that describes systems and methods aimed at improving the access and visualization of volumetric medical data, such as that obtained from MRI and CT scans, through a web-based portal. The patented technology demonstrates a centralized system that processes medical scan data and visualizes it remotely, allowing efficient transmission of three-dimensional views over low-bandwidth connections, thus facilitating better diagnostic capabilities across diverse medical environments.

      The central dispute revolved around whether the patented methods and systems constituted an abstract idea under the Alice two-step framework. Nuance and Mach7 argued that the patent claims failed to transform this abstract idea into a patent-eligible application due to lack of an inventive concept. The district court agreed, finding that the patents were directed to the basic concept of manipulating and displaying data, a task it considered routine and conventional in the field.

Claim 1 of the ‘609 patent, representing the first group of claims, was central to this dispute.

1.            A system for viewing at a client device at a remote location a series of three-dimensional virtual views over the Internet of a volume visualization dataset contained on at least one centralized database comprising:

at least one transmitter for accepting volume visualization dataset from remote location and transmitting it securely to the centralized database;

at least one central data storage medium containing the volume visualization dataset;

a plurality of servers in communication with the at least one centralized database and capable of processing the volume visualization dataset to create virtual views based on client request;

a resource manager device for load balancing the plurality of servers;

a security device controlling the plurality of communications between a client device, and the server; including resource manager and central storage medium;

at least one physically secured site for housing the centralized database, plurality of servers, at least a resource manager, and at least a security device;

a web application adapted to satisfy a user’s request for the three-dimensional virtual views by: a) accepting at a remote location at least one user request for a series of virtual views of the volume visualization dataset, the series of views comprising a plurality of separate view frames, the remote location having a local data storage medium for storing frames of views of the volume visualization dataset, b) determining if any frame of the requested views of the volume visualization dataset is stored on the local data storage medium, c) transmitting from the remote location to at least one of the servers a request for any frame of the requested views not stored on the local data storage medium, d) at at least one of the servers, creating the requested frames of the requested views from the volume visualization dataset in the central storage medium, e) transmitting the created frames of the requested views from at least one of the servers to the client device, f) receiving the requested views from the at least one server, and displaying to the user at the remote location the requested series of three-dimensional virtual views of the volume visualization dataset by sequentially displaying frames transmitted from at least one of the servers along with any frames of the requested series of views stored on the local data storage medium.


      The Federal Circuit’s analysis focused on whether the district court was correct in its application of the Alice two-step test for patent eligibility. This two-step framework is critical for determining whether a patent’s claims involve patent-eligible subject matter under Section 101.

      In the first step of the Alice analysis, the court examines whether the claims at issue are directed to an abstract idea. For AI Visualize’s patents, the Federal Circuit assessed whether the system and method for visualizing medical scans, as claimed, merely recited an abstract concept without applying or using it in a uniquely technological manner.

      The court found that the patents were primarily directed to the abstract idea of manipulating and displaying data, specifically the storage, retrieval, and graphical representation of medical imaging data. The court referenced their conclusion in Hawk Tech. Sys., LLC v. Castle Retail, LLC, 60 F.4th 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2023), noting that “converting information from one format to another . . . is an abstract idea.”

      Having determined that the claims were directed to an abstract idea, the court then proceeded to step two of the Alice test, which involves determining whether the claim elements, either individually or as an ordered combination, add something significantly more to the abstract idea to transform the claim into patent-eligible subject matter. This “something more” must be an inventive concept that is not merely an instruction to implement or apply the abstract idea on a generic computer or using generic technology.

      In reviewing AI Visualize’s claims, the court concluded that the methods described for processing and visualizing medical data did not involve an inventive concept sufficient to warrant patent protection. The claims were found to involve routine and conventional computer functions that are generic enough to be performed on any computer network. This included the creation of virtual views from medical data, transmitting these views over low-bandwidth networks, and enabling remote access via a web portal—none of which constituted a technological improvement over existing practices.

      AI Visualize cites several sections of the specification to argue that creating virtual views offers a technical solution to a technical problem. This includes a section that explains how dynamic and static virtual views are formed by selecting related image frames from a volume visualization dataset. However, the court declined to consider details from the specification that are not specifically claimed.

      Moreover, the court noted that the claimed invention did not solve a technical problem in an innovative way but rather applied a known solution (data manipulation and visualization) to a practice long prevalent in the field of computer systems.

      The decision reaffirms the strict standards imposed by the Federal Circuit for patent eligibility under Section 101, emphasizing that a patent’s claims must do more than simply apply an abstract idea using conventional and well-understood applications. They must demonstrate a specific, inventive concept that enhances the technological process in a non-obvious way. This ruling highlights the challenges patent applicants face in securing protection for software-based innovations, particularly those that could be viewed as abstract ideas without clear, specific, and technologically rooted implementations.


  • The decision reinforces the importance of demonstrating a specific, technologically rooted inventive concept in patent claims, particularly in fields involving software and data manipulation.
  • Patents that broadly claim the performance of “abstract ideas” such as data retrieval and display without a clearly defined inventive mechanism are likely to face challenges under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
  • It is essential to provide detailed technical descriptions in patent applications and include technological specificity in the patent claims to effectively present the unique contributions.

Result-Effective-Ugh…a Bridge Too Far?

Adele Critchley | April 25, 2024

Pfizer Inc. v. Sanofi Pasteur Inc.

Decided: March 5, 2024

Result-Effective Variable; Obviousness

Before LOURIE, BRYSON, and STARK, Circuit Judge. Opinion drafted by LOURIE.


Pfizer appealed to the Federal Circuit following rulings from five inter partes review proceedings petitioned by Sanofi challenging all claims of Pfizer’s U.S. Patent No. 9492559 (‘559 Patent). The ‘559 Patent claims immunogenic compositions comprising glycoconjugates of various Streptococcus pneumoniae serotypes for use in pneumococcal vaccines. Independent claim 1 is as follows (emphasize added):

  1. An immunogenic composition comprising a Streptococcus pneumoniae serotype 22F glycoconjugate, wherein the glycoconjugate has a molecular weight of between 1000 kDa and 12,500 kDa and comprises an isolated capsular polysaccharide from S. pneumoniae serotype 22F and a carrier protein, and wherein a ratio (w/w) of the polysaccharide to the carrier protein is between 0.4 and 2.

The Board instituted review based on each petition and issued final written decisions which, taken together, found all claims unpatentable. Pfizer raised four challenges on appeal. The first, which will be the only challenge discussed herein, alleged that the Board erred in determining that the ‘559 Patent was obvious based on prior art references PCT Patent Application Publication 2007/071711 (“GSK-711”) and U.S. Patent Application Publication 2011/0195086 (“Merck-086”).

The Board recognized that neither GSK-711 nor Merck-086 disclosed any molecular weight for a S. pneumoniae serotype 22F glycoconjugate, as required by claim 1 of the ’559 Patent, but nevertheless concluded that, based on the evidence of record, glycoconjugate molecular weight is a result-effective variable that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated to optimize to provide a conjugate having improved stability and good immune response. It is here that Pfizer argued the Board erred, because it is undisputed that the prior art does not disclose any molecular weight for the claimed serotype 22F glycoconjugate, there could be no presumption of obviousness. The CAFC disagreed.

The CAFC begin by stating that “the determination whether or not a claimed parameter is a result-effective variable is merely one aspect of a broader routine optimization analysis.”

The CAFC followed that “an overlap between a claimed range and a prior art range creates a presumption of obviousness that can be rebutted with evidence that the given parameter was not recognized as result-effective. See Genentech, Inc. v. Hospira, Inc., 946 F.3d 1333, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (citing E.I. DuPont, 904 F.3d at 1006); In re Applied Materials, Inc., 692 F.3d 1289, 1295 (Fed. Cir. 2012).” However, they emphasized that this “does not mean that the determination whether or not a variable is result-effective is only appropriate when there is such an overlap.” Rather that “a routine optimization analysis generally requires consideration whether a person of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated, with a reasonable expectation of success, to bridge any gaps in the prior art to arrive at a claimed invention. Where that gap includes a parameter not necessarily disclosed in the prior art, it is not improper to consider whether or not it would have been recognized as result-effective. If so, then the optimization of that parameter is “normally obvious.” In re Antonie, 559 F.2d 618, 620 (CCPA 1977).”

Thus, the CAFC concluded that the Board did not err in considering, as part of its obviousness analysis, whether or not the claimed molecular weight of a S. pneumoniae serotype 22F glycoconjugate was a result-effective variable, dispute the cited references being silent thereon.

It was ultimately concluded that “substantial evidence supports the Board’s conclusion that the molecular weight recited in claim 1 would have been obvious over the references.” Such evidence included the fact that  GSK-711 gave the molecular weights for fourteen other S. pneumoniae serotype glycoconjugates, and that Expert Testimony showed that, at the time of the invention, conjugation techniques and conditions were routine such that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood the claimed molecular weight to be “typical of immunogenic conjugates.”


An argument against a Result-Effective Variable assertion may be weakened, even when the prior art is silent on said variable, if a PHOSITA can bridge the gaps in the teaching with a reasonable success based on the evidence overall. Thus, it may be necessary to demonstrate more than simply the variable not being recognized by the reference. That is, one may also have to show there is no reasonable expectation of success in said variable

Written Description Compliance Requires Lack of Different Inventions Achieved by Claimed and Disclosed Ranges

Fumika Ogawa | April 19, 2024


Decided: February 9, 2024

Chen, Stoll, and Cunningham.  Opinion by Stoll.


The CAFC addressed a question of written description compliance where a numerical range set forth in a patent claim is narrower than and encompassed by a disclosed range in the specification. The CAFC found that the written description requirement is met under fact-specific circumstances where substantial evidence indicates that a skilled artisan would see no different inventions resulting from the claimed range and the disclosed range.


RAI appealed a final written decision by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board in a post-grant review (PGR) finding certain claims of RAI’s U.S. Patent No. 10,492,542 (“the ’542 patent”) unpatentable.  RAI challenged, among other issues,[1] the Board’s finding that claims 10 and 27 of the ’542 patent lack adequate written description under 35 U.S.C. § 112.

The ’542 patent relates to electrically powered “smoking articles” which, as in e-cigarettes, use an electrical heating element to heat tobacco or like substance to form an inhalable vapor or aerosol.  Claims 10 and 27—added by preliminary amendment in the underlying application which is a continuation from a former application having no such claims in the original filing—specify that the heating element has a certain range of length, which is not disclosed verbatim in the specification.

The written description requirement is a question of fact subject to substantial evidence review. The CAFC prefaced the written description analysis with the general threshold for compliance: the disclosure must “reasonably convey[ to a skilled artisan] that the inventor had possession of the claimed subject matter as of the filing date.”  The CAFC then discussed precedents finding written description support, or lack thereof, for claimed ranges that are narrower than ranges described in specifications.

Courts finding adequate written description: Wertheim, Blaser, Kolmes[2]

In Wertheim, the parameter at issue was “solids content of the concentrated coffee extract.”  The claimed range “between 35% and 60%” was found adequately supported by the specification disclosing a broader range of “25% to 60%” along with specific examples where the parameter was either “36% or 50%.”  The Wertheim court held that presence of a clear indication that “the broad described range pertains to a different invention than the narrower (and subsumed) claimed range” (emphasis added) would negate adequacy of written description, whereas absence of such indication would support written description compliance.

Two subsequent courts followed Wertheim.  InBlaser, the claimed range of temperature for heating a reaction blend for acylation, “80º to 200º C.” was found adequately supported by the disclosure of a broader range of “between 60º and 200º C.”  In Kolmes, the claimed range of wrapping rate for cut-resistant yarn, “8–12 turns per inch,” was found adequately supported by the disclosure of a broader range of “4–12 turns per inch, with 8 turns per inch being preferred.”

Courts finding no adequate written description: Baird, Indivior[3]

Baird involved a patent application which included claims copied from an issued patent for an interference proceeding, i.e., the applicant was not the original author of the copied claims. The parameter at issue was a quench bath temperature in production of stretch-orienting polypropylene. The claimed range was “from about 40[º F] to … about 60 [º F].”  While this range was explained in the issued patent as having certain criticality, the applicant’s specification disclosed a broader range of “between 32º F and 176º F,” while silent on the narrower range. Finding lack of adequate support, the Baird court reasoned that the copied claim pertained to a “different” invention from that disclosed in the specification.  

In Indivior, the parameter at issue was a concentration of certain polymers in thin film formulation.  Disputed claims recited two numerical ranges: (A) “about 40 wt % to about 60 wt %” and (B) “about 48.2 wt % to about 58.6 wt %.”  The specification disclosed broader  ranges—or lower bounds without express upper bounds—of “at least 25” and “at least 50,” as well as specific instances of “48.2” and “58.6” gleaned from data tables.  The specification also stated that the parameter may be at “any desired level.”  The claimed range (A) failed the written description requirement because the specification did not literally recite the range or the endpoints, while the “any desired level” statement obscured the scope of the invention. The claimed range (B) also failed the written description requirement because, although the endpoints were disclosed at least implicitly, it was unclear that the specification described the range bound by these endpoints.

Application to Claims 10 and 27 of the ’542 patent

After summarizing the precedents, the CAFC turned to the claims at issue.  Claims 10 and 27 both recite that a heating member used in the smoking device has “a length of about 75% to about 85% of a length of the disposable aerosol forming substance.”  The specification describes four progressively narrow, nested ranges for the parameter: “about 75% to about 125%,” “about 80% to about 120%,” “about 85% to about 115%,” and “about 90% to about 110%.”  The Board’s finding of no written description was driven by the fact that the upper endpoint “85%” of the claimed range does not have a corresponding upper endpoint in any of the disclosed ranges.

The CAFC found that the written description requirement is met.  To reach the conclusion, the CAFC centered its analysis on “different invention” test set forth in Wertheim, restating that “[t]he specification need not expressly recite the claimed range to provide written description support.”  The factual inquiry looked to specific factors, including:

  • Express disclosure in the specification: Although the claimed range itself is not literally disclosed, both of its endpoints are identified as part of the disclosed ranges. 
  • Predictability and complexity of the invention: Since the smoking device invention relates to a relatively predictable, electro-mechanical field, and the claim language is simple, the level of clarity or details required to satisfy the written description requirement is low.
  • Lack of indication that the claimed parameter affects the invention: The specification nowhere indicates that “operability, effectiveness, or any other parameter” of the invention is impacted by changing the claimed parameter.

Based thereon, the CAFC found no “different invention” arising from the claimed range than that disclosed in the specification.

            The CAFC distinguished Indivior and Baird relied upon by the Board.  Unlike Indivior, the ’542 patent discloses the endpoints and contains no inconsistent statements regarding the range (e.g., that “any desired level” may work); plus the predictability of the electro-mechanical invention is higher than the chemical invention set forth in the Indivior claims. Also, unlike Baird where the claimed range was shown to have criticality over the boarder disclosed range, no evidence was presented in the present case that the broader disclosed range operates differently than the claimed range. 

            Additionally, the CAFC dismissed an expert testimony offered by Phillip Morris pointing to different center points of the disclosed range (100%) and the claimed range (80%).  The expert evidence was not enough to overcome the intrinsic evidence and the case law supporting adequacy of the written description.  


            This case exemplifies one way in which a court may apply case-by-case analysis of written description compliance.  Where the claimed range is narrower than and subsumed in the disclosed range, the “different invention” test may not only examine the express disclosure and the nature of the technology, but also may consider whether varying the parameter inside and outside the claimed range would make any difference.

While the test could be useful in establishing written description support—given that a patent specification typically describes numerical ranges in connection with one general inventive concept—caution should be used in asserting lack of different inventions emanating from different numerical ranges; such admission might be used by an opponent to support obviousness of the claimed range.  The dilemma may be avoided, for example, by drafting an original disclosure to describe both commonalities and differences across broad and narrow ranges as well as specific values of a key parameter.

[1] RAI’s other argument challenged the Board’s obviousness finding of other claims of the ’542 patent, which was affirmed by the CAFC on appeal.

[2] In re Wertheim,541 F.2d 257 (C.C.P.A. 1976), In re Blaser, 556 F.2d 534 (C.C.P.A. 1977), and Kolmes v. World Fibers Corp., 107 F.3d 1534 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

[3] In re Baird,348 F.2d 974 (C.C.P.A. 1965), and Indivior UK Ltd. v. Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories S.A., 18 F.4th 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2021). 

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