Since 2015, state Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“anti-SLAPP”) laws that were enacted to prevent litigious plaintiffs from silencing a defendant’s First Amendment rights have come under attack from state and federal courts. California Civil Procedure § 425.16 (“§425.16”), California’s anti-SLAPP law, is particularly susceptible to this judicial narrowing, as it is widely considered the broadest anti-SLAPP statute in the country. Indeed, the California Supreme Court in the 2019 case FilmOn.com Inc. v. Double Verify Inc. narrowed § 425.16’s applicability by articulating a stricter context-based standard for protected conduct under the statute’s catchall subdivision, § 425.16(e)(4).
This Article argues that this stricter standard is unwarranted in light of § 425.16’s legislative intent, previous California Supreme Court § 425.16 rulings, and the reasonable protections built in to § 425.16 for plaintiffs. Moreover, the court’s underlying frustration with § 425.16 overuse will likely be exacerbated, not ameliorated, by this stricter standard. Additionally, the vulnerable defendants § 425.16 was intended to help, in particular online watchdogs, will likely suffer the most under this stricter standard. This Note concludes that the California Legislature should act to clarify § 425.16(e)(4) or risk continued judicial efforts to narrow its applicability and potentially thwart its legislative purpose.
The United States patent system has long been considered the gold standard of global patent systems, in part because of the consistency and strength of the protections that it has granted to inventors.1 The rapid growth of the United States economy during the nation’s early years is often attributed in part to the patent system adopted by the country,2 and the strength of the United States patent system allows the United States to remain among the world’s most innovative countries despite falling behind other countries in areas relevant to innovation such as higher education and researcher concentration.3 A hallmark of a strong patent system is predictability.4 “In a strong patent system, patent rights are granted to particular inventions in a predictable manner, and patent infringement similarly is enforced in a predictable manner.”5 This predictability reinforces the strength of the patent system by allowing inventors to protect their inventions and efficiently allocate resources for future innovation.6
Until relatively recently, the rules regarding patent eligible subject matter were clear and predictable—courts and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, should interpret subject matter eligibility requirements broadly.7 This expansive subject matter eligibility interpretation was widely criticized as resulting in patents that were both too broad and too vague, 8 which resulted in the judiciary revisiting the issue of patent subject matter eligibility in a series of cases culminating in Alice Corp. Proprietary Ltd. v. CLS Bank International.9 In Alice, the Supreme Court reified a two-step analytical framework for patent subject matter eligibility.10 This framework, which was established in part to clarify patent-eligible subject matter, has been heavily criticized as being “chaotic,” a “real mess,” and even putting patent subject matter eligibility into a “state of crisis.”11 The application of this framework has proven to be “unpredictable and impossible to administer in a coherent consistent way.”12
In the years since Alice, there has been much legal scholarship and research regarding how to resolve the ambiguity surrounding patent subject matter eligibility, but nothing has successfully resolved the issue in practice. In January 2019, the USPTO promulgated guidance on the issue of patent subject matter eligibility.13
This Note will begin by providing a brief discussion of patent subject matter eligibility. Next, the Note will discuss the January 2019 Guidance promulgated by the USPTO and how the Guidance aims to alter the two-step analytical framework from Alice, before assessing whether this Guidance has appeared to have any substantial effect on the federal judiciary in the first year since the Guidance was promulgated.
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