93 Patent cases that can help identify USPTO Abstract ideas
Ever since the Alice verdict, it has become increasingly important to assess the patent-eligible subject matter in consonance with section 101 (§101) of the US code, which further passes the two-step requirement pronounced in the Alice decision for determining subject matter eligibility for claims.
This is not it. It is also important to assess and analyze the existent cases to determine what really constitutes abstract ideas, and which among them construe patent-eligible subject matter and which does not.
To help attorneys in the pursuit, The USPTO publishes an Eligibility Quick Reference Sheet: Identifying Abstract Ideas, and Decisions Holding Claims Eligible which lists all the key cases, the attorneys could use as a reference to determine patent eligibility or ineligibility under 35 USC 101. Building upon these reference sheets – and to save you the hassle of reading each case individually on separate websites across the web – we have collated all the important details related to those cases in this single piece. You can either choose to read the cases in sequence(makes sense approach!) or jump to the section of your choice(still makes good sense!) by clicking the respective link in the TOC below.
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Part 1: Decisions holding claims ineligible – Identifying abstract ideas
Fundamental Economic Practices
The phrase “fundamental economic practices” is used to describe concepts relating to the economy and commercial activities, including agreements, contractual and legal obligations, business relations, etc.
Note: The term “fundamental” implies basically, and not old or well‐known.
Having noted that, let’s have a look at the cases related to the first component, i.e., agreements.
A. Concepts relating to agreements between people or performance of financial transactions
One of the most noteworthy cases in this regard is In Re: Angadbir Singh Salwan which deals with the billing insurance companies and organizing patient health information (U.S. Patent Application No. 12587101).
In this matter, Dr. Salwan, who was the sole inventor, claimed methods of transferring patient health information, including electronic medical records (“EMR”), in a physician to patient network. The specification disclosed that the network can be accessed by, inter alia, physicians, patients, healthcare product suppliers, and related government agencies. Users could also access the network to schedule appointments, fill out forms, watch educational video clips, create electronic superbills, submit insurance claims, bill patients, communicate with doctors and patients, transfer patient health records, conference by video, advertise to patients, sell healthcare products, and rate healthcare providers.
The claim 1 of the patent application was as follows:
A method for transferring patient health information among healthcare user groups or patients via a network, the method comprising:
providing at least one central data storage configured to receive and store patient health data from one or more private data storages of healthcare user groups, at least one central computer program embodied in at least one computer readable medium or embodied in at least one central server for processing and transferring patient health information stored in the one or more central data storages, and at least one device for providing user authorization to access patient data stored in the one or more central data storages, and configuring the central computer program or the central server for:
communicating through at least one computer program, which includes EMR and billing software, embodied in a computer readable medium with at least one private data storage storing electronic medical record (EMR) information originated, entered and controlled by at least one or more first healthcare service providers affiliated with the one or more healthcare user groups, including at least accounts information confidential for the first healthcare user groups, the confidential information includes at least accounts information of one or more insurance companies, which is at least used by the billing software to calculate patient portion of the bill, and clinical data generated by one or more service providers;
receiving from the at least one private data storage the EMR information for storing, processing and transmission to at least one of the patients, or one or more second healthcare user groups, wherein the information confidential for the first healthcare user groups including at least the accounts information of one or more insurance companies is not received and stored at the central data storage;
storing the received EMR information generated by the one or more service providers including at least one of health problems, medications, diagnosis, prescriptions, notes written by the service Providers, diagnostic test results or patient accounts data in the at least one central data storage;
selectively retrieving the stored EMR information, generating one or more healthcare reports including one or more of health problem list, medication list, diagnoses report, prescription, diagnostic test result report, patient billing report; and
transmitting one or more healthcare reports to at least the second authorized healthcare user groups or the patient for reviewing.
The examiner rejected all pending claims on the grounds of lack of patentable subject matter, for lack of written description, obviousness, and indefiniteness. Dr. Salwan appealed to the Board, which affirmed the rejections.
Under § 101, the Board determined that claim 1 is “directed to the abstract idea of billing and also to a fundamental economic practice of calculating a patient’s bill.” It held that the recited method steps “fail to transform the nature of the claim as they are directed to generic computer structures for storing and transferring information.”
Under § 112, first paragraph, the Board agreed with the examiner that the specification fails to provide support for claim 1’s limitations that (1) the confidential information “is not received and stored at the central data storage” and (2) the EMR information is “entered and controlled” by healthcare user groups. The Board also agreed that the claim limitation in claims 69 and 70, “computing the quality of services,” is not supported by the specification. The Board also incorporated the examiner’s analysis for rejecting all pending claims for obviousness under § 103(a). Lastly, under § 112, the second paragraph, the Board agreed with the examiner that (1) the limitation “the patient appointment request” in claims 51 and 52 is indefinite for lack of antecedent basis, and (2) the limitation “feedback” in claims 69 and 70 is indefinite because it fails to define the scope of the claim with reasonable certainty.
In line with the Alice decision, the Board held that:
At Alice step one, the claims are directed to the abstract idea of billing insurance companies and organizing patient health information. Representative claim 1 recites storing, communicating, transferring, and reporting patient health information in a network. Among these steps, claim 1 recites using billing software to calculate a patient’s bill based on EMR and insurance information. It specifies that account information of insurance companies is not shared, whereas EMR information which includes, inter alia, medications, diagnoses, and test results is received, stored, and selectively retrieved to generate reports. This describes little more than the automation of a “method of organizing human activity” with respect to medical information.
At Alice step two, the recited method steps “fail to transform the nature of the claim as they are directed to generic computer structures for storing and transferring information.”
In another matter related to financial transactions, Apple was saved from paying a $533 Million infringement claim when the patents were held invalid as abstract ideas.
In this case, the three patents for technology owned by Smartflash (U.S. Patent Nos. 7334720, 8118221 and 8336772) were based on the ‘conditioning and controlling access to data based on payment’, that is they covered the technology that limited Internet access to data (video, audio, text, and software) to users who had paid for access.
Smartflash sued Apple for infringement and the patents were challenged. With the application of the Alice case, the patents were held invalid under 35 U.S.C. §101 as directed to abstract ideas.
In applying step one of the Alice test, the Federal Circuit held that the patent’s claims of Smartflash pertained to the abstract idea of “conditioning and controlling access to data based on payment.” which falls under the ambit of “fundamental economic practices”.
The court explained that claims directed to computer functionality must be analyzed to determine whether they relate to a “specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities” or to an abstract idea in which a computer is simply used as a tool. The court found that, in this case, the claims were directed to limiting access to data based on the user’s payment. Thus, the claims pertained to computers being used as tools to perform fundamental economic practices. As such, the court held that the first step of the Alice test was met.
The court then considered the second step of the Alice test – whether the claims contained limitations that “transform the nature of the claim” into patent-eligible subject matter. It noted that the Supreme Court had long held that routine computer activities do not establish patent-eligibility. The court held that storing, transmitting, retrieving, and writing data on a computer was not sufficient to transform Smartflash’s claims into something other than an abstract idea. The court further found that Smartflash’s hardware components were generic computer components and did not transform the claims into patent-eligible subject matter.
In the matter of LendingTree LLC v. Zillow Inc., US Patents 6385594 and 6611816 titled “Method and Computer Network for Co-Ordinating a Loan over the Internet” were analyzed for the patentable subject matter.
In this matter, LendingTree filed suit against Zillow and other defendants (Adchemy, Inc. and NexTag, Inc.) asserting its patents on co-ordinating loans, which was held to be invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 on the grounds of an abstract idea of merely a loan-application clearinghouse (coordinating loans) which is a “fundamental economic practice”.
The Federal Circuit held that claim 1 does not recite any elements that individually, or as an ordered combination, transform the abstract idea of coordinating loans into a patent-eligible application of that idea. It concluded that claim 1 describes the automation of a fundamental economic concept through the use of generic-computer functions.
Another significant matter on these lines is of BuySAFE Inc. v. Google Inc. which was based on “creating contractual relationship”. In this matter, BuySAFE filed an infringement case against Google for infringing U.S. Patent 7644019 which
directed to a method in which:
(1) a computer operated by the provider of a safe transaction service receives a request for a performance guaranty for an online commercial transaction,
(2) the computer processes the request by underwriting the requesting party in order to provide the transaction guaranty service, and
(3) the computer offers, via a computer network, a transaction guaranty that binds to the transaction upon the closing of the transaction.
Applying the two steps approach of Alice case, it was held that the underlying idea of creating “a contractual relation” between parties and this kind of contractual relations is “a fundamental economic practice long prevalent in our system of commerce.”
The Court also referred to the underlying process applied in hedging i.e. the method of entering into contracts to hedge risk in commodity prices is a “fundamental economic practice” as was held in the significant matter of Bilski v. Kappos.
Another significant matter in this regard is OIP Technologies, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc. which was filed by OIP Technologies against the alleged infringement by Amazon.com on its patent related to “a computer-implemented method of a price optimization in an e-commerce environment” (U.S. Patent No. 7970713).
On application of the two-steps of the Alice test, the Court held that the concept of “offer based pricing” was similar to other “fundamental economic concepts” found to be unpatentable abstract ideas. The Court noted that the “key distinguishing feature” of the claims was “the ability to automate or otherwise make more efficient traditional price-optimization methods.”
Second, the additional elements recited in the claims—“conventional computer activities or routine data-gathering steps” which used the computer only to perform routine tasks more quickly and accurately—were merely “well-understood, routine conventional” activities insufficient to confer patent eligibility.
One of the recent decisions on patent eligibility based on the Alice test is Credit Acceptance Corp. v. Westlake Services. In this case, Credit Acceptance Corp. appealed in a Covered Business Method (“CBM”) review proceeding before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. It claimed that its patents were based on both system and method claims directed to providing financing for allowing a customer to purchase a product selected from an inventory of products maintained by a dealer (U.S.Patent 6950807). The invention involves maintaining a database of the dealer’s inventory, gathering financing information from the customer, and presenting a financing package to the dealer for each individual product in the dealer’s inventory.
The Board determined that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of “processing an application for financing a purchase.” They added that they saw “no meaningful distinction between this type of financial industry practice and “the concept of intermediated settlement” which is held to be abstract in Alice.
In re Ray Smith, the rules for conducting a wagering game were tested for patentability. In this case, the patent was filed for a wagering game utilizing real or virtual but otherwise standard playing cards and the claims recited shuffling and dealing the cards in accordance with unconventional rules defining a new game (U.S. Patent Application No. 12912410).
It was held that conducting a “wagering game” is “effectively, a method of exchanging and resolving financial obligations based on probabilities created during the distribution of the cards,” and is therefore comparable to “other ‘fundamental economic practice[s]’ found abstract by the Supreme Court.”
It was also held “That is not to say that all inventions in the gaming arts would be foreclosed from patent protection under § 101: for example, claims directed to conducting a game using a new or original deck of cards [are envisaged as] potentially surviving step two of Alice.”
Inventor Holdings, LLC v. Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc.;
Inventor Holdings, LLC initiated patent infringement lawsuits against a number of defendants, including the highlighted defendant Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. alleging that it infringes U.S. Patent No. 5,862,582.
The ‘582 patent described a method and system for processing payments for remotely purchased goods. Bed Bath & Beyond argued that the ‘582 patent claims patent-ineligible subject matter and is invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
The court agreed with Bed Bath & Beyond that the core invention embodied by the ‘582 patent is a “fundamental economic or conventional business practice” and therefore an abstract idea. The court found all of its seventy-three claims invalid under § 101, as they claimed the abstract idea of paying for remote orders at local retailers, without reciting meaningful limitations to render the idea patent-eligible. And thus concluded that the asserted claims of the ‘582 patent are not eligible for patent protection.
Trading Technologies Int’l, Inc. v. IBG LLC.
IBG LLC petitioned for a review of claims of the U.S. Patents 7,533,056, 7,212,999, and 7,904,374 owned by Trading Technologies International, Inc, pursuant to the Transitional Program for Covered Business Method Patents (CBM review).
These patents were related to a graphical user interface (“GUI”) for electronic trading. The ’056 and ’999 patents disclosed “a user interface for an electronic trading system that allows a remote trader to view trends in the orders for an item, and provides the trading information in an easy to see and interpret graphical format.”
Whereas the ’374 patent, disclosed “a display and trading method to ensure fast and accurate execution of trades by displaying market depth on a vertical or horizontal plane, which fluctuates logically up or down, left or right across the plane as the market prices fluctuate.”
In each case, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board instituted CBM review and issued final written decisions holding that the patents meet the criteria to be eligible for CBM review and concluded that the claims 1–15 of the ’056 patent, claims 1–35 of the ’999 patent, and claims 1–36 of the ’374 patent are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Board additionally held that the claims of the ’056 patent would have been obvious.
Now that we had a look at all the cases related to agreements, let’s have a look at the cases related to the next important component under “fundamental economic practices”, categorized as risk mitigation.
A significant matter in this regard is that of In Re. Douglas T. Chorna. Mr. Chorna had filed a U.S. Patent (Application No. 12029610) for “System and Method for Implementing the Structuring, Pricing, Quotation, and Trading of Hindsight Allocation Instruments.” It covered the financial instruments designed to protect against the risk of investing and included a prospective evaluation of the market (over some specified period of time). The invention’s goal was to help investors automatically choose the best performing index/financial instrument over that period. These are the very same economic practices that were deemed to be patent-ineligible subject matter in Bilski and Alice.
It was held that these types of “commercial transactions do not make the idea non-abstract for section 101 purposes.” Indeed, in hedging transactions, the Supreme Court has held that “[h]edging is a fundamental economic practice long prevalent in our system of commerce” and that “[t]he concept of hedging, described in [the asserted claim] and reduced to a mathematical formula in [dependent claims], is an unpatentable abstract idea.” (Bilski)
The asserted claims also are directed to the abstract idea of “intermediated settlement, i.e., the use of a third party to mitigate settlement risk [also known as a clearing house].” (Alice). This transaction is “an abstract idea beyond the scope of § 101.”
The concept of mitigating settlement risk was scrutinized in the torch-bearer matter of Alice Corp. Pty. Limited v. CLS Bank International. It was in this case that the patents (US Patents 5970479, 6912510, 7149720, and 7725375) disclosed a computer-implemented scheme for mitigating ‘settlement risk’, which in other words is the risk of payment only to one party of the financial transaction, by using a third-party intermediary.
The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was affirmed in this matter regarding the question that the claims at issue are drawn to the abstract idea of intermediated settlement, and that merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.
The ruling in this matter also referred to the claims of ‘hedging’ which were rejected in the matter of Bilski v. Kappos, wherein the petitioners submitted an application for grant of patent for a business method using a mathematical algorithm to hedge against price changes in the energy market (US Application No. 08833892). This application was rejected on the grounds that it was related to an abstract idea and had no relationship to the specific apparatus.
It was held that the machine-or-transformation test is not the only test for patent eligibility under § 101 of the Patent Act. The Patent Act § 101 defines patent eligibility with exceptions for “laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas” and is a threshold test and the claimed invention must also be novel, non-obvious, and fully described.
Certain Methods of Organizing Human Activities
Let us now examine the next key element required for identifying abstract ideas, which refers to the obvious human activities or transactions, which cannot be claimed under a patent. Though there cannot ideally be a blanket prohibition against such patents, it is necessary to look into the various categories which have been indicated in the guidance issued by USPTO.
A. Concepts Relating to Managing Relationships or Transactions between People, or Satisfying or Avoiding a Legal Obligation
One of the key matters in this regard is In Re Stephen W. Comiskey, in which a patent was filed (US Patent Application No. 09461742) claiming a method for performing mandatory arbitration of one or more documents.
It contained the following steps: registering the document and its author; inserting an arbitration provision into the document; enabling the complaining party to request arbitration; conducting arbitration; supporting the arbitration; and determining an arbitration award.
This claim did not require the use of a computer, but the specification described an automated system and method. Other claims required an internet connection or other electronic communication. It was held that only if the requirements of §101 are satisfied is the inventor allowed to pass through to the other requirements for patentability, such as novelty under §102 and, of pertinence to this case, non-obviousness under §103 and thus, found abstract ideas to be non-patentable.
Another example is that of creating a contractual relationship as was earlier discussed in the matter of BuySAFE, Inc. v. Google, Inc., wherein the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed that the patent (U.S. Patent No. 7644019) which related to methods and machine-readable media encoded to perform steps for guaranteeing a party’s performance of its online transaction and was held to be invalid for lack of patent-eligible subject matter.
It was held that laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable. Under that interpretation, laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas, no matter how ground-breaking, innovative, or even brilliant are outside what the statute means by ‘new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter,’ In identifying the three types of excluded matter, the Court had explained that the underlying “concern” is “‘that patent law not inhibit further discovery by improperly tying up the future use’ of these building blocks of human ingenuity.”
In consonance with the issue of abstract ideas, generating rule‐based tasks for processing an insurance claim was held to patent-ineligible in the matter of Accenture Global Services, GMBH v. Guidewire Software, Inc. The Court held that Accenture was unable to point to any substantial limitations that separate the system claims from the similar, patent-ineligible method claims (U.S. Patent No. 7013284) and that the system claim does not, on its own, provide substantial limitations to the claim’s patent-ineligible abstract idea.
The Court explained that in the case of abstractness, the court must determine whether the claim poses “any risk of pre-empting an abstract idea.” To do so the court must first “identify and define whatever fundamental concept appears wrapped up in the claim.” Then, the court must evaluate the claim to determine whether “additional substantive limitations, narrow, confine, or otherwise tie down the claim so that, in practical terms, it does not cover the full abstract idea itself.”
In the matter of Bancorp Services, L.L.C. v. Hartford Life Insurance Co., Bancorp filed suit against Hartford for infringing U.S. Patent No. 5926792 titled ‘System for Managing a Stable Value Protected Investment Plan’, which dealt with administering and tracking the value of life insurance policies in separate accounts, including policies containing stable value protected investments, wherein a third-party guarantor guarantees a particular value for a life insurance policy, regardless of its market value, in case the policy is paid out prematurely.
The Court held that the claims are invalid for indefiniteness only if reasonable efforts at claim construction prove futile. Otherwise, if the meaning of the claim is discernible, even though the task may be formidable and the conclusion may be one over which reasonable persons will disagree, the claim avoids invalidity on indefiniteness grounds.
Another matter describing obvious transaction is that of processing loan information in the case of Dealertrack v. LLC (U.S. Patent No. 6587841, 7181427 and 5878403), in which a computer-aided method and system for processing credit applications over electronic networks were examined.
The automated process used a central processor to receive credit application data from dealers, process the data to conform to the individual application forms of different banks, forward the completed applications to banks selected by the dealer, receive answers from the banks and forward those answers back to the dealer.
The court held that these claims are directed to an abstract idea pre-emptive of a fundamental concept or idea that would foreclose innovation in this area. The court reasoned that the claimed process explains the basic concept of processing information through a clearinghouse.
In the matter of Fort Properties Inc. v. American Master Lease LLC, the patent-eligibility for tax‐free investment in real estate was examined to ascertain whether it is a process (U.S. Patent No. 6292788).
It was held that process is “process, art, or method, and includes a new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or material.” Thus, this invention was determined to be an unpatentable abstract idea.
In the matter of Apple, Inc. v. Ameranth, the patents for generating menus were analyzed (U.S. Patent Nos. 6384850, 6871325 and 6982733). The patents described a preferred embodiment of the invention(for use in the restaurant industry) for the generation of restaurant menus, including an intuitive GUI from which to build a menu on a desktop or other computer. A hierarchical tree structure was used to show different relationships between menu categories (soups, salads, appetizers, entrees, and desserts), menu items (green salad, chicken caesar salad), menu modifiers (dressing, meat temperature, condiments) and menu sub-modifiers (Italian, French, ranch, bleu cheese).
It was held that “a claim that merely describes an ‘effect or result dissociated from any method by which [it] is accomplished’ is not directed to patent-eligible subject matter” and highlighted that the “the specification merely states that the user interface could permit linking of orders with customers, with no disclosure of how this would be technologically implemented.”
Another key matter in this component is In re Ferguson, wherein the patent covering structuring of sales force or marketing of a company was examined. The Court held that the subject matter should be checked on the basis of the machine-or-transformation test, which is the “definitive test to determine whether a process claim is tailored narrowly enough to encompass only a particular application of a fundamental principle rather than to pre-empt the principle itself.”
In the matter of Ultramercial v. Hulu LLC, using advertising as an exchange or currency was assessed.
The patent (U.S. Patent 7346545) claimed steps for
displaying an advertisement in exchange for access to copyrighted media including receiving copyrighted media from a content provider;
selecting an ad after consulting an activity log to determine whether the ad has been played less than a certain number of times;
offering the media for sale on the Internet;
restricting public access to the media;
offering the media to the consumer in exchange for watching the selected ad;
receiving a request to view the ad from the consumer;
facilitating display of the ad;
allowing the consumer access to the media;
allowing the consumer access to the media if the ad is interactive; updating the activity log;
and receiving payment from the sponsor of the ad.
It was held that ‘none of these eleven individual steps, viewed both individually and as an ordered combination, transform the nature of the claim into patent-eligible subject matter.’
On similar lines, using an algorithm for determining the optimal number of visits by a business representative to a client was held patent-ineligible (US Patent Application No. 539839) in the matter of Application of Maucorps. In this appeal decision, it was held that computer-implemented model of sales organization did not constitute a patentable process.
In the matter of Intellectual Ventures v. Capital One Bank, the patents for administration of financial accounts claiming methods of budgeting, particularly methods of tracking and storing information relating to a user’s purchases and expenses and presenting that information to the user vis-à-vis the user’s pre-established, self-imposed spending limits were examined (U.S. Patent Nos. 8083137, 7603382 and 7260587).
The Court ruled that in light of the claim language, the specification, and the prosecution history, we conclude that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood the claim as requiring the machine-readable instruction form to be in a hard-copy format. We affirm the district court’s judgment of invalidity with respect to the claims of the ’137 and ’382 patents and the judgment of non-infringement of the asserted claims of the ’587 patent based on the district court’s claim construction.
In another important case Bascom Global Internet Services Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, the Federal Circuit held software claims patent eligible since the Supreme Court’s Alice decision.
The patent claimed ‘method and system for content filtering information retrieved from an internet computer network’ (US Patent No. 5987606). The claimed filtering system is located on a remote ISP server that associates each network account with one or more filtering schemes and at least one set of filtering elements from a plurality of sets of filtering elements, thereby allowing individual network accounts to customize the filtering of Internet traffic associated with the account.
It was held that in this matter an inventive concept can be found in the non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces.
In the matter of Planet Bingo, LLC v. VKGS LLC, the Bingo Game invention failed the abstract idea test and was held to be patent-ineligible. It was held that the game was based on an abstract idea.
The additional limitations “provide only for the use of a computer performing its most basic functions: storing numbers, assigning identifiers, allowing for basic inputs and outputs, printing of a receipt, displaying of numbers, and/or matching a player’s numbers with the called numbers for verification.”
In re Andrew U. MEYER and William K. Weissman assessed the patent for a mental process that a neurologist should follow when testing a patient for nervous system malfunctions (US application No. 465574). The patent entitled ‘Process and Apparatus for Identifying Locations of Probable Malfunction’ claimed a process – an apparatus for carrying out the process of testing a complex system and analyzing the results of these tests. The process proceeds by dividing the complex system into a plurality of “elements” and associating a factor of function or malfunction with each of these elements. The factors, which are initialized at the outset, are updated or modified during the course of the process in dependence upon the responses of this system to a series of tests. When the tests have been completed, the resultant factors so produced indicate a measure of probability of function or malfunction of the elements with which they are associated.
It was held that claims are to a mathematical algorithm representing a mental process that has not been applied to physical elements or process steps and is, therefore, not limited to any otherwise statutory process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.
In this regard, the cataloging of labor data was held to be patent-ineligible in the matter of Shortridge v. Foundation Construction Payroll Service, LLC. The patent (US 8744933) claimed a computer implemented business method and process directed to enabling a public works contractor employer to generate certified payroll records; provide alerts and reports; provide evidence of meeting and exceeding government objectives in order to establish a record and reputation of compliance; and generate reports for managing the assignment of personnel to enhance worker cooperation, spirit, and morale.
In the matter of TLI Communications LLC v. AC Automotive, LLC the patent (U.S. Patent No. 6038295) which “describes an apparatus for recording of a digital image, communicating the digital image from the recording device to a storage device and administering the digital image in the storage device” was examined.
It was held that that the specification does not describe a new telephone, a new server, or a new physical combination of the two and described the components in vague and general terms consistent with their use in the art, resulting in the components behaving “exactly as expected according to their ordinary use.”
On the similar line, in the matter of Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A. the patent (US Patent Nos. 7233843, 8060259 and 8401710) for “performing real-time performance monitoring of an electric power grid by collecting data from multiple data sources, analyzing the data, and displaying the results” was held invalid.
The Court held that there is a critical difference between patenting a particular concrete solution to a problem and attempting to patent the abstract idea of a solution to the problem in general.
In the matter of Intellectual Ventures LLC v. Erie Indemnity Company and others, the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6510434, 6519581 and 6546002) for creating an index, and using that index to search for and retrieve data were held to be patent-ineligible on the basis that an abstract idea does not become non-abstract by specifying a particular field of use or technological environment.
It was held in the matter of RecogniCorp LLC v. Nintendo Co. Ltd. that claims related to encoding and decoding facial image data by converting various facial features (eyes, nose and other features) into alphanumeric symbols using a library or database of facial feature images (US Patent No. 8005303) was patent-ineligible.
The Court opined that the impact of patent claims and the specification when distinguishing between patent-eligible improvements to a computer and patent-ineligible abstract ideas under Section 101.
In the matter of Two-Way Media Ltd v. Comcast Cable Communications LLC, the four patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 5778187, 5983005, 6434622, and 7266686) regarding Internet multicasting and measuring delivery of real‐time information for commercial purposes were held to be patent-ineligible. The Court held that these patents do not contain a “saving inventive concept.”
In consonance with the same line of reasoning, in the matter of Audatex North America, Inc. v. Mitchell International, Inc. the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 7912740 and 8468038) for providing a vehicle valuation through the collection and use of vehicle information were held as patent ineligible.
The Court opined that they are neither directed to an improvement in computer functionality, nor provide a specific improvement in the way computers operate.
In the matter of Easyweb Innovations, LLC. v. Twitter Inc. the patent (US Patent No. 7685247) claimed –
A message publishing system (MPS) operative to process a message from a sender in a first format, comprising of:
a central processor;
at least one sender account;
at least one storage area configured to store at least a first portion of the message;
and software executing in the central processor to configure the processor so as to:
identify the sender of the message as an authorized sender based on information associated with the message in comparison to data in the sender account, wherein the identification is dependent upon the first format;
convert at least a second portion of the message from the first format to a second format;
and publish the converted second portion of the message so as to be viewable in the second format only if the sender has been identified as an authorized sender.
It was held that this patent directed to an abstract idea because the claim “merely recites the familiar concepts of receiving, authenticating, and publishing data.”
In the matter of Intellectual Ventures LLC v. Symantec Corp. and Trend Micro Inc., the three software patents (U.S. Patents Nos. 6460050, 6073142, and 5987610) were examined and held to be ineligible on the same reasoning of ‘abstract ideas’. The claims were for a distributed content identification system for screening of emails and other data files for unwanted content.
In the matter of Evolutionary Intelligence, LLC v. Sprint Nextel Corporation the patents (US Patent Nos. 7010536 and 7702682) for selecting and sorting information by user interest or subject matter, which was done by directing to systems and methods for allowing computers to process data that are dynamically modified based upon external-to-the-device information, such as location and time, were held to be invalid.
The court held that the patent merely computerizes “old forms of information processing,” such as those used in “libraries, businesses, and other human enterprises with folders, books, time-cards, ledgers and so on.”
In the matter of Secured Mail Solutions LLC v. Universal Wilde, Inc., the “Intelligent Mail Barcode” patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 7814032, 7818268 and 8073787), the “QR Code” patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 8260629 and 8429093), and the “Personalized URL” patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 8,910,860 and 9,105,002) were all examined.
The Intelligent Mail Barcode patents claimed a method for verifying the authenticity of the mail object. The identifier or barcode is a single set of encoded data that is generated by concatenating a sender-assigned unique identifier with sender data, recipient data and shipping method data. The barcode is affixed to the outside of the mail object and an authenticating portion of the barcode is stored in a database. The recipient of the mail object can access the database and use that authenticating portion to verify that a mail object is authentic.
The QR Code patents require that the identifier is a QR code (two-dimensional barcode) which a user can scan to look up additional electronic information related to the mail object. The Personalized URL patents are similar to the QR Code patents, except the identifier is a personalized network address, or URL.
The Court held that the claims of the three sets of patents are not limited by rules or steps that establish how the focus of the methods is achieved. Instead, the claims embrace the abstract idea of using a marking affixed to the outside of a mail object to communicate information about the mail object, i.e., the sender, recipient, and contents of the mail object.
Move v. Real Estate Alliance
Move, Inc waged a suit against Real Estate Alliance Ltd. seeking a Declaratory Judgment of noninfringement and invalidity of the U.S. Patent No. 5,032,989 owned by Real.
The ‘989, which is a continuation-in-part of the U.S. Patent 4,870,576; (both patents are now expired), covers a method of using a computer for locating available real estate properties within a selected area on a map. Move’s websites allegedly infringed REAL’s claimed search methodologies.
The district court’s judgment was in the favor of Move. Real then appealed regarding only claim 1 of the ’989 patent. On remand, the district court granted Summary Judgment of noninfringement in favor of Move, owing to the fact that Move’s websites did not perform the “selecting” steps required by claim 1 of the ’989 patent. Real appealed the judgment.
On this subsequent appeal, the Federal Circuit performed the two-step § 101 analysis of the claims. The Court first addressed direct infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) but then agreed with the district court and found that Move did not directly infringe the ’989 patent. The Court next discussed indirect infringement and inducement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b), which the court noted was not analyzed by the district court, remanded the case for the district court to determine whether Move was liable for indirect infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) based on the Akamai standard.
Finally, when Real requested for reassignment of the case to a different district court judge on remand, the Court found no merit in Real’s accusations regarding the district court judge and denied Real’s request for reassignment.
Zuili v. Google
Google LLC filed petitions with the USPTO PTAB, seeking covered business method (“CBM”) patent review of claims 1–3, 6, 10, 14–15, 18–19, and 21 of U.S. Patent No. 7,953,667, claims 1–3, 5–6, 10–11, 14–15, and 17 of U.S. Patent No. 8,326,763, and claims 1, 5, 9, and 11 of U.S. Patent No. 8,671,057, assigned to Mr. Patrick Zuili.
The Patents-in-Suit covered a method and system that relate to identifying invalid or illegitimate “impressions” and “clicks” for online “pay-per-click” and “pay-per-impression” advertisers. Patrick Zuili appealed, arguing the Patents-in-Suit are not eligible for CBM review.
The PTAB found the preambles of claim 1 of each of the Patents-in-Suit to be limiting and the patents-in-Suit eligible for CBM review pursuant to the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act and concluded that the asserted claims directed to patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
Berkheimer v. HP
Steven E. Berkheimer brought an action against HP in the Northern District of Illinois Court, alleging infringement of claims 1-7 and 9-19 of the U.S. Patent No. 7,447,713.
The patent pertained to digitally processing and archiving files in a digital asset management system.
After a Markman hearing, the district court concluded that the term “archive exhibits minimal redundancy” in claim 10 is indefinite and renders claim 10 and its dependents invalid. HP moved for summary judgment under § 101. The District Court granted the motion.
Berkheimer appealed the decision that found various claims of the ‘713 patent as ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. A two-step analysis was conducted by the federal circuit to determine the same.
In part one of the analysis, the District Court ruled that claim 1 was directed to “the abstract idea of ‘using a generic computer to collect, organize, compare, and present data for reconciliation prior to archiving.'”
In step two of the § 101 inquiry, the district court concluded that the claims do not contain an inventive concept because they describe “steps that employ only `well-understood, routine, and conventional’ computer functions” and are claimed, “at a relatively high level of generality.” The Court concluded that claim 1 does not provide an inventive concept beyond that of the abstract idea therein and added that because there is a factual dispute regarding whether claims 4-7 describe well-understood, routine, and conventional activities, the Federal Circuit vacated the summary judgment that found claims 4-7 as patent ineligible.
Few other examples on similar concepts are also issued as guidance.
In the matter of Return Mail Inc. v. U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Patent No. 6826548 related to the processing of mail items that are undeliverable due to an inaccurate or obsolete address for the intended recipient was held to be invalid.
It was held that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of relaying “mailing address data” by reviewing encoded data about message addressing, and transferring certain electronic data based on whether the sender did or did not want to receive corrected addresses for the addressee in question.
In Vehicle Intelligence and Safety LLC v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, the patent claiming methods and systems for screening equipment operators by an “expert system” for any kind of physical or mental impairment, selectively testing those operators, and controlling the equipment if any impairment is detected (U.S. Patent No. 7394392) was held to be invalid.
Voter Verified sued the election systems in 2009 for patent infringement of the U.S. Reissued Patent RE40,449.
The ‘449 patent, reissued on August 5, 2008, from the U.S. Patent 6,769,613, disclosed a process in which a voter enters a vote into a voting system; the system generates a corresponding printed ballot, and the voter verifies the printed ballot for accuracy and submits it for tabulation.
Election system then filed various motions alleging invalidity and non-infringement and ultimately one of the claims was found invalid while the others not-infringed. Voter Verified sued the election systems again in 2016 to which election systems responded by filing 12 (b)(6) motion based on Alice. Voter Verified countered this by stating that the motion was barred based on issue preclusion from previous litigation.
The Federal Circuit judged in favor of the elections systems stating that preclusion doesn’t prevent the motion and that the claims of the ‘449 patent were invalid under § 101.
Part 2: Identifying Abstract Ideas
An Idea of Itself
The phrase ‘an idea of itself’ refers to the concept, plan, or scheme of a process or product, which has a standing of its own. Since the idea itself is the concept, it cannot be treated as the subject matter of a patent.
A. Concepts Relating to Data Comparisons that can be Performed Mentally or are Analogous to Human Mental Work
The first concept in this regard refers to those concepts which can be performed mentally and do not require any special invention.
In the case of Mortgage Grader, Inc. v. First Choice Loan Services Inc., NYLX, Inc (U.S. Patent Nos. 7366694 and 7680728), the patent claimed financial transactions including a method for a borrower to evaluate and/or obtain financing for achieving anonymous loan shopping.
The Court held that the patent included no “inventive concept.”
The matter of Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. v. Biogen Idec was a significant case of interest to the personalized medicine industry. Here, three patents were at issue (U.S. Patent Nos. 6638739, 6420139 and 5723283). They covered methods for the schedule of infant immunization for infectious diseases that can affect the later occurrence of chronic immune-mediated disorders and that immunization should be conducted on the schedule that presents the lowest risk with respect to such disorders. It was held that the same is patent-ineligible.
In the matter of PerkinElmer, Inc. v. Intema Limited, the patent (U.S. Patent No. 6573103) was directed to screening methods to estimate the risk of Down’s syndrome of fetal during pregnancy. In short, the claims recite comparing data to determine a risk level: “data are gathered in the first trimester of pregnancy; data are gathered in the second trimester of pregnancy; those data are compared to known statistical information. No action beyond the comparison is required.”
The Court assessed the claims, which recite mental processes and natural laws, add enough to the statements of ineligible subject matter to direct them not to the ineligible concepts themselves, but to applications of those concepts. It was held to be patent-ineligible.
University Of Utah Research Foundation And Myriad Genetics, Inc. v. Ambry Genetics Corporation Inc. and Myriad Genetics, Inc
In the matter of University Of Utah Research Foundation And Myriad Genetics, Inc. v. Ambry Genetics Corporation Inc. and Myriad Genetics, Inc., patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 5753441, 5747282 and 5837492) claiming the precise locations and sequences of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers were examined.
It was held that comparing information regarding a sample or test subject to a control or target data cannot be the subject matter of a patent.
In SmartGene v. ABL, the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6081786 and 6188988) claimed a method, system and a computer readable medium “for guiding the selection of a treatment regimen for a patient with a known disease or medical condition.”
It was held that “the differences between the various method and system claims within the patents-in-dispute are immaterial with respect to whether the patents constitute eligible subject matter.”
In Re Ralph R. Grams and Dennis C. Lezotte, the claim at issue indicated: a method for identifying an “abnormality” in an individual in a “complex system” using plurality of correlated parameters of a set of such parameters that is representative of the individual’s condition, measure the levels of chemical and biological constituents of the individual having a reference range of values, comparing the individual’s conditions; and identifying deviation.
The patent was held to be ineligible and that “As disclosed in the specification, the invention is applicable to any complex system, whether it be electrical, mechanical, chemical, biological, or combinations thereof.”
In CyberSource Corporation v. Retail Decisions Inc., the patent (U.S. Patent No. 6029154) claiming a “method and system for detecting fraud in a credit card transaction between a consumer and a merchant over the Internet” was examined. It assesses the “Internet address” information to determine whether an Internet address relating to a particular transaction is consistent with other Internet addresses used in transactions utilizing a credit card.
It was held to be patent-ineligible.
SRI Int’l, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc
SRI sued Cisco for infringement of SRI developed inventions claimed in U.S. Patent Nos. 6,484,203 and 6,711,615. The ’615 patent (“Network Surveillance”) is a continuation of the ’203 patent (“Hierarchical Event Monitoring and Analysis”). Cisco unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment on several issues, including that the claims are ineligible.
A jury trial was held and the jury found that the Cisco intrusion protection system (“IPS”) products, Cisco remote management services, Cisco IPS services, Sourcefire4 IPS products, and Sourcefire professional services, directly and indirectly, infringed the said claims.
The district court denied Cisco’s motions and instead sua sponte granted summary judgment of no anticipation in SRI’s favor and concluded that the claims recite a specific process rooted in computer technology and so are not directed to an abstract idea and are thus patent-eligible.
B. Concepts relating to organizing or analyzing information in a way that can be performed mentally or is analogous to human mental work
In the matter of FairWarning IP, LLC v. Iatric Systems, Inc. ,the patent (U.S. Patent No. 8578500) claiming ‘System and Method of Fraud and Misuse Detection’ disclosed ways to detect fraud and misuse by identifying unusual patterns in users’ access to sensitive data by an otherwise-authorized user of a patient’s protected health information was examined.
It was held that simply requiring computer implementation of an otherwise abstract-idea process does not make the claims patent eligible.
In the matter of Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A. the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 7233843, 8060259 and 8401710) related to collecting information, analyzing it and displaying certain results of the collection and analysis was held invalid on the grounds that “there is a critical difference between patenting a particular concrete solution to a problem and attempting to patent the abstract idea of a solution to the problem in general.”
On similar lines, the patents (U.S. Patents Nos. 7566003, 7568617, 8505816 and 8662390) for collection, storage, and recognition of data were held invalid in the matter of Smart Systems Innovations, LLC v. Chicago Transit Authority.
In the matter of Intellectual Ventures LLC v. Erie Indemnity Co., the patent (U.S. Patent No. 7757298) for creating an index, and using that index to search for and retrieve data was examined. It was further claimed that the patent “improve[s] upon the prior art by providing a method and apparatus to detect undesirable files stored on computer storage devices according to pre-set criteria and that such detected files can be reviewed in order to reduce legal risk to a corporation.
The Court held that the subject matter of the patent is not eligible for registration.
In another key software patent of data recognition and storage, in the matter of Content Extraction and Transmission LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 5258855, 5369508, 5625465 and 5768416) were held invalid on the grounds that they “share substantially the same specification.”
It was held that the claim was not directed to an abstract idea because the claim was directed to “a method of processing paper checks, which is more akin to a physical process than an abstract idea.”
In the matter of Versata Development Group Inc. v. SAP America Inc., the patent for covered business method (U.S. Patent No. 6553350) was assessed. It claimed “method and apparatus for pricing products in multi-level product and organizational groups.” The “invention operated under the paradigm of WHO (the purchasing organization) is buying WHAT (the product).” And it determined a price using organizational and product group hierarchies.
This patent was held to be invalid.
In Synopsys Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corporation, the patent claimed:
A method for converting a hardware independent user description of a logic circuit, that includes flow control statements including an IF statement and a GOTO statement, and directive statements that define levels of logic signals, into logic circuit hardware components comprising:
converting the flow control statements and directive statements in the user description for a logic signal Q into an assignment condition AL(Q) for an asynchronous load function AL( ) and an assignment condition AD(Q) for an asynchronous data function AD( );
and generating a level sensitive latch when both said assignment condition AL(Q) and said assignment condition AD(Q) are non-constant; wherein said assignment condition AD(Q) is a signal on a data input line of said flow through latch;
said assignment condition AL(Q) is a signal on a latch gate line of said flow through latch; and an output signal of said flow through latch is said logic signal Q.
The Court held that the patent is “so broad as to read on an individual performing the claimed steps mentally or with pencil and paper” and thus, invalid.
In the matter of Internet Patents Corp. v. Active Network, Inc. (U.S. Patent No. 7707505) the patent for invention directed to a web browser that retains what a user has typed into a web-based form, even if that information has not yet been submitted and if the user navigates away from and back to the web-based form, the stored state is usable in the form so that the user does not have to retype the information.
It was held that the patent is based on the abstract idea of “retaining information lost in the navigation of online forms,” but failed to include “elements or combination of elements, sometimes referred to as the inventive concept, sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon [the abstract idea].”
In the matter of TDE Petroleum Data Solutions Inc. v. AKM Enterprise Inc., the patent (U.S. Patent No. 6892812) based on the abstract idea of storing, gathering, and analyzing data was held invalid even though the patent was directed to various processes for determining the state of an oil well drill.
It was held that “they are the most ordinary of steps in data analysis and are recited in the ordinary order.”
In consonance with the invalidity of software patents, the patent (U.S. Patent No. 8019060) for ‘Using categories to organize, store and transmit information’ was held invalid in the matter of Cyberfone Systems, LLC v. CNN Interactive Group, Inc.
The patent claimed
A method comprising:
obtaining data transaction information entered on a telephone from a single transmission from said telephone;
forming a plurality of different exploded data transactions for the single transmission, said plurality of different exploded data transaction[s] indicative of a single data transaction, each of said exploded data transactions having different data that is intended for a different destination that is included as part of the exploded data transactions, and each of said exploded data transactions formed based on said data transaction information from said single transmission, so that different data from the single data transmission is separated and sent to different destinations;
and sending said different exploded data transactions over a channel to said different destinations, all based on said data transaction information entered in said single transmission.
Smart Systems Innovations
Smart Systems Innovations, LLC sued Chicago Transit Authority alleging infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,566,003, 7,568,617, 8,505,816, and 8,662,390. The first two patents related to a system of regulating entry into mass transit systems using bank cards. The other two patents were related to processes that allowed these bankcard terminals to recognize multiple balances on an individual card and to regulate entry based on timestamps.
Chicago Transit Authority responded by filing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that various claims of the Patents-in-Suit are patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The District Court granted the motion, concluding that the said claims are directed to an abstract idea and otherwise lack an inventive concept, and are thus patent-ineligible under § 101.
Digitech filed infringement suits against 32 defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, asserting claims 1-6, 9,10-15, and 26-31 of the U.S. Patent No. 6,128,415 for a device profile and a method for creating a device profile within a digital image processing system. The digital image processing involves electronically capturing an image of a scene with a “source device,” such as a digital camera, altering the image in the desired fashion, and transferring the altered image to an “output device,” such as a color printer.
According to the patent,
all imaging devices imposed some level of distortion on the color and spatial properties of an image. This distortion occurred because different devices (i.e., digital cameras, monitors, TVs, printers, etc.) allowed different ranges of colors and spatial information to be displayed or reproduced. Device dependent solutions work to calibrate and modify the color and spatial properties of the devices themselves to reduce the level of distortion. The patent discloses an “improved device profile” that “includes both chromatic characteristic information and spatial characteristic information.”
Several defendants then filed summary judgment motions seeking to invalidate the asserted claims of the ‘415 patent under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The district court granted the defendants’ motions and found that all of the mentioned claims were subject matter ineligible.
The court found that the “device profile” claims directed towards a collection of numerical data that lacks a physical component or physical manifestation. The court thus concluded that a “device profile” does not fall within one of the categories of the eligible subject matter under § 101.
The district court added that the asserted method claims for generating a device profile encompass the abstract idea of organizing data through mathematical correlations and further ruled that the asserted method claims were also ineligible under § 101.
In the matter of Holly Brown, Ken Novak and Kim Goellner, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) rejected the patent for producing “consistent and reproducible hair styling designs” while “balancing head shape overall.”
This matter represents a shift from the earlier patents as previously, patents have been granted for methods of cutting hair. This case is considered an equivalent of Alice case in relation to software as this one for haircuts. The court held that the patent did not include anything about the specific technique to be used to measure the head, etc. and that adding the use of scissors at the end was not enough to transform the abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter.
In Re: George Mizhen Wang
Mr. George Mizhen Wang appealed the final decision of the PTAB that affirmed the Examiner’s final rejection of claims 1–17, 19, 21, and 22 of U.S. Patent Application No. 13/219,680. The invention claimed in the application relates to “a phonetic symbol system formed by phonetic symbols using letters of the English alphabet.”
The Examiner had rejected the application claims 1–17, 19, 21, and 22 on the basis that-
- All of the claims were directed to non-statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101;
- All of the claims were indefinite;
- Independent claims 1, 2, and 19 and dependent claims 3–5 and 14 were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 7,004,758 B2 to Kuojui Su; and
- That dependent claims 6–13, 15–17, 21, and 22 were obvious over Su in view of the Scholastic First Dictionary.
The board agreed with the Examiner that “defining phonetic symbols in language, using strings of English letters,” is an unpatentable abstract idea. And further added that there is no inventive concept that rescues them from patent ineligibility. And thus concluded that Mr. Wang’s invention does not qualify as a patent-eligible process under § 101.
Interval Licensing, LLC
Interval Licensing, LLC sued various defendants for patent infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,034,652. Defendants including AOL, Inc., Apple, Inc., Google, Inc., and Yahoo! Inc., motioned for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the asserted claims of the patent are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because the claims are directed to an abstract idea and contain no inventive concept to make them patent-eligible.
The Court found that the asserted claims directed to the abstract idea of providing information to a person without interfering with the person’s primary activity.
The Federal Circuit found that the claims’ invocation of computers added no inventive concept because the computer functionality was generic. Accordingly, the court concluded that the asserted claims of the ‘652 patent are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
In the matter of Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC v. DirecTV, LLC, the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 7970379 and 8688085) are 2 distinct patents but share a similar specification claiming to deliver and broadcast user‐selected media content to portable electronic devices.
It was ruled that the concept of “providing out-of-region access to regional broadcast content” is an abstract idea that concerns “information distribution that is untethered to any specific or concrete way of implementing it.”
In the matter of Clarilogic, Inc. v. FormFree Holdings Corporation, the patent (U.S. Patent No. 8762243) claiming “Systems and Methods for Electronic Account Certification and Enhanced Credit Reporting” was assessed, wherein a method for electronically certifying a potential borrower’s financial account data and providing a credit report was claimed.
The patent was held invalid on the ground that “[a]t best, the claims describe using generic, multi- purpose computer functions to automate the fundamental economic process of financial risk assessment.”
In the matter of Tranxition, Inc. Delaware Corporation v. Lenovo (United States) Inc., the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6728877 and 7346766) claiming to provide instructions to a practitioner on how to migrate or transition settings between computers based on the description of a generic computer implementation, using routine, conventional activities, were held to be invalid.
In this patent, the claim instructs a practitioner to provide configuration information, generate an extraction plan, extract the configuration settings, generate a transition plan and transition those settings to a new computer. It was held that these steps, both individually, and as an ordered combination, do not disclose an inventive concept.
In the matter of Prism Technologies LLC v. T-Mobile USA Inc., the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 8127345 and 8387155) for security systems for use with computer networks that provide a secure transaction system adapted for use with untrusted networks or resources, such as the Internet were examined and held to be invalid as the claims are directed to the abstract idea of “providing restricted access to resources.”
The Court further appended that the claims “include inventive concepts to ensure that [the] patents in practice are more than just patents on restricting access to resources” because they “modify the way the Internet functions to provide secure access over a protected computer resource.”
Int. Ventures v. Symantec
Intellectual Ventures sued Symantec in the District of Delaware, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,537,533. The District Court invalidated the ‘533 patent on a summary judgment motion as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.
Intellectual Ventures appealed for claims 25 and 33. While claim 25 directed a method for remote mirroring of digital data, claim 33 directed compressing the data prior to copying the data from the data transfer unit to the input end of the communication link, and decompressing the data after copying the data from the output end of the communication link.
The Supreme Court set forth the 2-step test to determine whether claims are directed to patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In a concise opinion, the Federal Circuit agreed that the district court correctly found the claims directing to the abstract idea of backing up data and that the claim limitations lacked an inventive concept as they invoke conventional computer components that do not function in combination in an inventive manner. And thus concluded patent-ineligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
Maxon, LLC v. Funai Corporation, Inc.
Maxon, LLC sued Funai Corporation, Inc., alleging infringement of four U.S. Patent Nos. 8,989,160; 7,489,671; 7,486,649; and 7,171,194 teaching electronic means of increasing user control over subscription entertainment content. Funai motioned to dismiss this suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the ground that the patents are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Funai’s motion to dismiss was granted as the patents were directed at subject matter that is not patent-eligible as a matter of law.
Maxon, LLC appealed the district court’s finding. The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the claims recite only generic computing processes using functional language, and merely recite generic computer elements for their basic functions and thus do not transform the claimed abstract idea into eligible subject matter under Alice also that the ordered combination of the claimed elements is not inventive under Alice step two. And thus the district court’s grant of Funai’s motion to dismiss was affirmed.
Affinity Labs v. Amazon.com
Note: This appeal is related to the appeal in Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC v. DirecTV. Although the patents at issue in the two cases are different, they share a similar specification.
Affinity labs of texas sued Amazon.com alleging that they infringed its U.S. Patent No. 8,688,085, by marketing the Amazon Music system, which allows customers to stream music from a customized library.
The patent entitled “System and Method to Communicate Targeted Information,” describes a “method for targeted advertising” in which an advertisement is selected for delivery to the user of a portable device based on at least one piece of demographic information about the user.
Amazon solicited dismissal on the ground that the patent is invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The magistrate judge concluded the patent invalid as it involves an abstract idea and the laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas are not patent-eligible.
The district court agreed with the magistrate judge that the ’085 patent claims are directed to the abstract idea of “delivering selectable media content and subsequently playing the selected content on a portable device.”
The court also agreed that the claims do not supply an inventive concept as “the ’085 Patent solves no problems, includes no implementation software, designs no system, and entered judgment against Affinity.
In the matter of Diamond v. Diehr, the Arrhenius equation was examined. The patent was filed claiming a process for molding raw, uncured synthetic rubber into cured precision products. Though the method was well-known in the industry, there was no established mathematical equation to measure precisely and carry out necessary computations. This patent defined the process of constantly measuring the temperature inside the mold and feeding the temperature measurements into a computer that repeatedly recalculates the cure time by use of the mathematical equation and then signals a device to open the press at the proper time. It was rejected on the ground that they were drawn to non-statutory subject matter.
In Gottschalk v. Benson, the patent for an algorithm for converting binary coded decimal to pure binary, which was based on a programmed conversion of numerical information was held to be patent-ineligible. It was held that a mathematical formula with no substantial practical application exception in connection with a digital computer cannot be patented.
On similar lines, an algorithm for calculating and comparing regions in space was rejected in the matter of Coffelt v. NVIDIA Corporation. The court opined that “[i]n the instant invention, a pixel color is derived mathematically using vectors in a particular steradian region. The calculations claimed can be done by a human mentally or with a pen and paper.” It further added that “analyzing information by steps people [can] go through in their minds, or by mathematical algorithms, without more . . . [are] mental processes within the abstract-idea category.”
In the matter of Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., Inc. v. Radio Corporation, the patent (US Patent No. 1974387) for a formula describing certain electromagnetic standing wave phenomena employing a directive antenna system for use in radio communication was in question. Some of the claims were invalidated based on the fact that they derived graphically from the Abraham formula, and disclosed no invention other than the application of the formula, and were thus found to be invalid.
The finding of the trial court that they do not make ‘a correct showing of what happens when the wires are other than exact multiples of half wave lengths’ is supported by the evidence. The testimony warrants the conclusion that differences in wave effect already noted, when wires of other than exact multiples of half wave lengths are used, produce, through consequent changes in ‘radiation resistance’, differences in directional radio activity not calculable by the formulae of the patent. It follows that Claims 15 and 16, so far as they claim antennae of wire lengths intermediate of multiples of half wave lengths, are invalid.
In Parker v. Flook, the patent for a formula for computing an alarm limit is indicated as an abstract idea. The patent claimed: A method for updating alarm limits uses mathematical formulae, where “alarm limit” is a number. During catalytic conversion processes, operating conditions such as temperature, pressure, and flow rates are constantly monitored. When any of these “process variables” exceeds a predetermined alarm limit, an alarm may signal the presence of an abnormal condition indicating either inefficiency or perhaps danger. At certain points in the catalytic conversion processes, it may be necessary to update the alarm limits periodically.
B. CONCEPTS RELATING TO PERFORMING MATHEMATICAL CALCULATIONS
In re Abele and Marshall, the Court confirmed rejection of patent (Application No. 850892) for “Tomographic Scanner”, which calculates the difference between local and average data values. This patent claimed to be an improvement in computed tomography whereby the exposure to X-ray is reduced while the reliability of the produced image is improved.
SAP America Inc. v. InvestPic, LLC
SAP, America, Inc. filed a suit against Investpic, LLC appealing a declaratory judgment action alleging, inter alia, that the claims of the U.S. Patent No. 6,349,291 are invalid because their subject matter is ineligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The district court granted the motion, holding all claims ineligible under § 101 and hence invalid. Investpic answered and asserted patent infringement counterclaims against SAP.
The district court held the claims ineligible. The Federal Circuit agreed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas that the claims were invalid because their subject matter is invalid under 35 U.S.C § 101.
The court concluded that their subject is nothing but a series of mathematical calculations based on selected information and the presentation of the results of those calculations.
Burnett v. Panasonic Corp.
Mr. Carl M. Burnett, an information technologist, and owner of two patented “geospatial technologies,” U.S. Patent No. 6, 681,231, and U.S. Patent No. 7,107,286, sued Panasonic Corporation for infringement of independent claims 1 and 9 of the ’286 patent.
Claim 1 discloses a geospatial media recorder while claim 9 asserts ownership of a geospatial information processing method. Panasonic Corp. moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the claims asserted were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
The Court set forth the 2-step test to determine the same. After which they found that claims 1 and 9 constitute abstract concepts that do not transform into patent-eligible claims by the use of a computer. And thus held the claims invalid as directed to ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101, and concluded dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Decisions Holding Claims Eligible
Let us now examine those decisions of US Courts wherein the subject matter of patents were held to be eligible for rejection and those cases passed the two-prong Alice Test:
These patents are divided into three separate categories, wherein the claim is not directed to be: an abstract idea, law of nature, or product of nature.
In the significant matter of DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., the infringement of patents (U.S. Patents No. 6993572 and 7818399) for matching website “look and feel” were assessed, wherein the generation of a composite web page that combines certain visual elements of a host website with content of a third-party merchant was in question.
The Court held that the claimed solution is necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks. Also, it was added that the machine-or-transformation test is a “useful and important clue” for determining patent eligibility, it is clear today that not all machine implementations are created equal.
In the matter of Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corporation the patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6151604 and 6163775) were related to a “self-referential database”. it was concluded that the claims meet the statutory and judicial requirements of patent-eligibility. These patents claimed an improvement over the relational database model that allows storing information describing a relation in a single table, as opposed to multiple tables used by relational databases, by making use of a “special row,” which “defines the characteristics of a column in that same table.” Further, the claimed improvement provided for “faster searching of data than with the relational model,” “more efficient storage” of certain types of data, and “more flexibility in configuring the database.”
It was further opined by the Court that “not all improvements in computer-related technology are inherently abstract.” It is pertinent to note that where the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality, they are not abstract under the first step of the Alice test. Thus, it is not necessary to then apply the second step of this test.
In the noteworthy matter of McRo, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America, the software patent claiming rules for lip sync and facial expression animation was held not to be an abstract idea and therefore, the patent was eligible for subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. This patent was for automating a part of 3D animation method, wherein the lip synchronization of animated characters was done in such a manner that the lips of the animated character move in a normal fashion to the point where the animated character’s lips can be read. It was held that “As the specification confirms, the claimed improvement here is allowing computers to produce “accurate and realistic lip synchronization and facial expressions in animated characters” that previously could only be produced by human animators.”
In the matter of Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States, the patent (U.S. Patent No. 6474159) in question was for:
A system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame, comprising:
a first inertial sensor mounted on the tracked object;
a second inertial sensor mounted on the moving reference frame;
and an element adapted to receive signals from said first and second inertial sensors and configured to determine an orientation of the object relative to the moving reference frame based on the signals received from the first and second inertial sensors.
The patent also covered a method comprising determining an orientation of an object relative to a moving reference frame based on signals from two inertial sensors mounted respectively on the object and on the moving reference frame.
The Court opined that the invention applied laws of physics to solve this problem, and the mere presence of a mathematical equation in the solution “does not doom the claims to abstraction.” Therefore, the claims are not directed to an abstract idea. Thus, once the first step of Alice Test was cleared, the Court did not proceed to the second step of Alice.
In Trading Technologies International v. CQG, the patent (U.S. Patent Nos. 6772132 and 6766304) for “Click Based Trading with Intuitive Grid Display of Market Depth” was held as patent-eligible since the invention improves the speed and accuracy with which a user can perform a task, even though that task is part of a business process. The Court opined that these claims were directed to “a specific improvement in the way computers operate”. These claims were not directed to an abstract idea as was held in this case.
In the matter of Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corporation, the patent (U.S. Patent No. 5953740) for “an enhanced computer memory system” was held to be patent eligible.
This patent claimed:
A computer memory system connectable to a processor and having one or more programmable operational characteristics, said characteristics being defined through configuration by said computer based on the type of said processor, wherein said system is connectable to said processor by a bus, said system comprising:
a main memory connected to said bus; and a cache connected to said bus;
wherein a programmable operational characteristic of said system determines a type of data stored by said cache.
The Court held that these claims offered multiple benefits and advantages offered by the technological improvements.
In the matter of Eibel Process Company v. Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company, there was a comparison of the old Fourdrinier machines for papermaking with the new improved versions of the same known as ‘gravity‐fed paper machine’ claiming that the object of patent is to construct and arrange the machine in such a manner where it may run at a very much higher speed than before and produce a more uniform sheet of paper which is stronger, even and well formed.
The patent was based on the claim that this improvement was a formidable step in the art of papermaking, which resulted in the increase of the daily production from 20 to 30 percent. The Court noted that the evidence established that, before the new machines of Eibel were invented, the Fourdrinier machine, due to continued high speeds in the wire of the much beyond 500 feet a minute, caused the production of defective paper. It was only with this new invention that the disturbance and ripples in the stock as it was forming at a point between the breast roll and the first suction box, caused by the fact that at that point the wire was traveling much faster than the stock, and that if at that point the speed of the flowing stock could be increased approximately to the speed of the wire, the disturbance and rippling in the stock would cease, and the defects would disappear from the paper product.
It was held that this fact reflects Eibel’s discovery was invention rather than the mere obvious and simple application of known natural forces. The Court noted that …We think, then, that the Eibel patent is to be construed to cover a Fourdrinier machine in which the pitch of the wire is used as an appreciable factor, in addition to the factors of speed theretofore known in the machine, in bringing about an a proximation to the equal velocity of the stock and the wire at the point where, but for such approximation, the injurious disturbance and ripples of the stock would be produced.
In the matter of Rapid Litigation Management Ltd. (formerly, Celsis Holdings, Inc.) v. Cellzdirect, Inc., the patent in question was for cryopreserving of liver cells.
This patent claimed:
Method for producing a desired preparation of multi-cryopreserved hepatocytes, said hepatocytes being capable of being frozen and thawed at least two times, and in which greater than 70% of the hepatocytes of said preparation are viable after the final thaw, said method comprising:
subjecting hepatocytes that have been frozen and thawed to density gradient fractionation to separate viable hepatocytes from non- viable hepatocytes;
recovering the separated viable hepatocytes;
and cryopreserving the recovered viable hepatocytes to thereby form said desired preparation of hepatocytes without requiring a density gradient step after thawing the hepatocytes for the second time, wherein the hepatocytes are not plated between the first and second cryopreservations, and wherein greater than 70% of the hepatocytes of said preparation are viable after the final thaw.
The Court noted that “the claims are simply not directed to the ability of hepatocytes to survive multiple freeze-thaw cycles[; r]ather, the claims of the patent are directed to a new and useful laboratory technique for preserving hepatocytes.” Viewed in this way, being a “constructive process,” directed to achieving “a new and useful end” this “is precisely the type of claim that is eligible for patenting” according to the panel. Further, this opinion also acknowledges that the inventors “discovered” the capacity for hepatocytes to undergo multiple cycles of freezing and thawing, “but that is not where they stopped, nor is it what they patented.”
In the matter of Tilghman v. Proctor, the patent claimed a method of hydrolyzing fat, wherein the streamlined analysis in a process involved mixing two naturally occurring compounds (fat and water) and subjecting them to heat and pressure to hydrolyze the fat into glycerin and free fatty acids.
The Court held that this claim has no recitation of a law of nature and thus, can not be rejected for lack of eligible subject matter. The Court pointed out that “[w]hoever discovers that a certain useful result will be produced in any art by the use of certain means is entitled to a patent for it, provided he specifies the means” and “the claim of the patent is not for a mere principle. . . . Th[e] chemical fact was not discovered by Tilghman. He only claims to have invented a particular mode of bringing about the desired chemical union . . . He does not claim every mode of accomplishing this result.”
iii) CLAIM IS NOT DIRECTED TO A PRODUCT OF NATURE (BECAUSE THE CLAIMED NATURE BASED PRODUCT HAS MARKEDLY DIFFERENT CHARACTERISTICS)
In the momentous matter of Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the Supreme Court, for the first time, allowed patenting of a genetically-altered living organism. This case caused a paradigm shift to the accepted view that life is not patentable. The patent application filed by Ananda Chakrabarty had 36 claims relating to the creation of the bacteria, which were of three different categories: “first, process claims for the method of producing the bacteria; second, claims for an inoculum comprised of a carrier material floating on water, such as straw, and the new bacteria; and third, claims to the bacteria themselves.”
The Court gave a significant judgment opining that the bacterium “plainly qualifies as patentable subject matter” as “a non-naturally occurring manufacture or composition of matter.” Thus, this key case pointed towards the landmark summary in this regard that “anything under the sun that is made by man” may be patentable.
Another key matter of life sciences was that of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad. In this case, a comparison was drawn between the isolated DNA (as not patentable subject matter) and cDNA [synthetic versions of DNA that omit non-coding portions] (as patentable). The Court opined that the “Myriad’s principal contribution was uncovering the precise location and genetic sequence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes within chromosomes 17 and 13. The question is whether this renders the genes patentable….In this case, Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention. Myriad’s claims are simply not expressed in terms of chemical composition, nor do they rely in any way on the chemical changes that result from the isolation of a particular section of DNA. Instead, the claims understandably focus on the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Owing to the fact that the claim is concerned primarily with the information contained in the genetic sequence, not with the specific chemical composition of a particular molecule, the subject matter was eligible for a grant.
Under these examples, those patents were held to be eligible wherein the subject matter was based on claim as a whole amounting to significantly more than the recited judicial exception, or in other words, the claim does recite an inventive concept.
In the matter of Amdocs (Israel) Limited, v. Openet Telecom, Inc. the infringement of four patents (U.S. Patents Nos. 7631065, 7412510, 6947984 and 6836797) for field enhancement in a distributed network was examined. The patents claimed “computer code for using the accounting information with which the first network accounting record is correlated to enhance the first network accounting record.” The Court noted that “[a] field enhancement specifies how the data obtained from the trigger of the enhancement procedure is processed before it is placed in a single field in the central database
It was further held that “this enhancing limitation necessarily involves the arguably generic gatherers, network devices, and other components working in an unconventional distributed fashion to solve a particular technological problem.”
In the significant matter of Research Corporation Technologies v. Microsoft Corporation, the patent claiming “digital image half-toning” were held as patent-eligible on the ground that “Mathematical algorithms are abstract ideas. Application-specific implementations of mathematical algorithms are not, assuming they are not mere post solution activity.”
The Court even pointed out that in this patent “(1) the impropriety of dissecting claims into old and new elements and then to ignore the old elements in the analysis, as well as (2) then necessity of considering the claims as a whole in determining their eligibility under section 101.”
In the matter of SiRF Technology Inc Mitac USA v. Broadcom Corporation and Global Locate, the six patents (U.S. Patent No. 6417801, 6606346, 6651000, 6704651, 6937187 and 7158080 for ‘GPS technology’ were held valid.
It was held that the processes in these patents are “tied to a machine.” The GPS technology employs a method for calculating the position of a machine, which is a GPS receiver and the inputs for the calculation are generated by a GPS receiver. Thus, the subject matter of patent requires the “position of a GPS receiver” and “computing the position of the satellite signal receiver”, thus validating the claims.