STANFORD —  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently held a roundtable discussion at Stanford University on whether Congress should adjust rules that prohibit the patenting of abstract ideas, laws of nature and natural phenomena.

Law professors from the University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Hastings; Stanford; and Santa Clara University along with representatives from tech giants Intel, Amazon, Oracle, Myriad, Google, Microsoft and IBM attended the event.

The roundtable, which was held in December, questioned if the development of technology is currently outpacing patent laws. These rules, which grant exclusive rights to new technologies and discoveries, are of keen interest to Silicon Valley, according to Robin Feldman, a law professor and director of the Institute for Innovation Law at UC Hastings.

"Silicon Valley cares a lot about what happens in patent law," she told the Northern California Record

Much of the discussion focused on if Congress should tweak current rules to clarify the definition of "abstract idea" as some foreign countries have, according to the National Law Review.

"It is a little late to argue about whether the exceptions are valid under the statute," Feldman said. "It is certainly a challenge, however, that science progresses faster than the law".

Another point of contention at the roundtable centered on if patent rules should be determined by the courts, which have interpreted the rules differently at times.

"The federal circuit tries to soften and undermine the decisions of the Supreme Court and in the last year has found ways to make it easier for patent holders to uphold patents in lawsuits, the most notable being the Enfish case," Feldman said. 

Enfish, a software developer, sued Microsoft in 2016, alleging that the tech giant had infringed on its patent rights relating to its "self-referential" database, according to court filings. A district court ruled against Enfish after hearing Microsoft's argument that the self-referential database was "nothing more than rows with a simple header," according to IP Watchdog. A federal appeals court then reversed the decision.

The California discussion was the second and final roundtable on the topic, according to the USPTO. The discussions were held so the public could offer input on a topic that "continues to generate substantial debate." The first roundtable was held in Alexandria, Va. in November.

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