U.S. Patent No. 8,762,173, titled “Method and Apparatus for Indirect Medical Consultation.” This patent issued on June 24, 2014, and dates back to an application filed in November 2007. And what was the novel, nonobvious, deserving-of-patent-protection invention? Here is claim 1 in a nutshell (the full claim is at the end of this post, for those interested)1:
a. take a telephone call from patient
b. record patient info in a patient file
c. send patient information to a doctor, ask the doctor if she wants to talk to the patient
d. call the patient back and transfer the call to the doctor
e. record the call
f. add the recorded call to the patient file and send to doctor
g. do steps a. – f. with a computer.
This is a stupid patent. This is a patent on a doctor’s computer-secretary, or put another way, intermediated communications with a computer. In fact, we don’t see much difference between this patent and the patent invalidated by the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank, which claimed the abstract idea of intermediated settlement with a computer.
Given that this patent seems like it should not have been allowed because of its abstract idea, we looked at the file history (the publicly available record of what happened at the patent office). What we found was that the original claim 1 (which was similar but not identical to the claim that eventually was patented) had not claimed a computer. The examiner correctly issued a rejection, saying the claim was abstract and thus wasn’t something that could be patented. In response, the applicant added element (g) (“providing a computer, the computer performing steps “a” through “f””). And the rejection went away.