35 U.S.C. § 101
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Bascom Cannot Save Your Claims if Your Own Patent Says You Used Known Technology

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court determination that claims of several patents were patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because they did not recite an innovation with sufficient specificity to constitute an improvement to computer functionality. Universal Secure Registry LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 20-2044 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 26, 2021) (Stoll, J.)

Universal Secure Registry (USR) sued Apple, Visa and Visa U.S.A. (collectively, Apple), asserting four patents directed to securing electronic payment transactions, which USR alleged allowed for making credit card transactions “without a magnetic-stripe reader and with a high degree of security” (e.g., allegedly Apple Pay or Visa Checkout). Apple moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6), arguing that the asserted patents claimed patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Delaware magistrate judge, quoting Visual Memory v. NVIDIA (Fed. Cir. 2017), determined that all the representative claims were directed to a non-abstract idea because “the plain focus of the claims is on an improvement to computer functionality itself, not on economic or other tasks for which a computer is used in its ordinary capacity.”

The district court judge disagreed, concluding that the representative claims failed at both Alice steps, and granted Apple’s motion to dismiss. The district court found that the claimed invention was directed to the abstract idea of “the secure verification of a person’s identity,” and that the patents did not disclose an inventive concept—including an improvement in computer functionality—that transformed the abstract idea into a patent-eligible application. USR appealed.

In assessing the claims under the Alice two-part test, the Federal Circuit noted that in cases involving authentication technology, patent eligibility often turns on whether the claims provide sufficient specificity to constitute an improvement to computer functionality itself. For example, in its 2017 decision in Secured Mail Solutions v. Universal Wilde, the Court (at Alice step one), held that claims directed to using a conventional marking barcode on the outside of a mail object to communicate authentication information were abstract because they were not directed to specific details of the barcode, how it was processed or generated or how it was different from long-standing identification practices. Similarly, in its 2020 decision in Prism Technologies v. T-Mobile, where the claims broadly recited “receiving” identity data of a client computer, “authenticating” the identity of the data, “authorizing” the client computer and “permitting access” to the client computer, the Court held at Alice step one that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of “providing restricted access to resources,” not to a “concrete, specific solution.” At step two, the Court determined that the asserted claims recited conventional generic computer components employed in a customary manner such that they were insufficient to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.

The claims in issue fared similarly. The district court held that the representative claim was not materially different from the Prism claims, and the Federal Circuit agreed. Although the [...]

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Without More, Mere Automation is Abstract—Not Construing Interchangeable Terms Doesn’t Give Them the Cold Shoulder

In the latest development relating to patent eligibility of content-based identifier patents, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed decisions finding patent claims ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. PersonalWeb Techs. LLC v. Google LLC, YouTube, LLC, Case No. 20-1543 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 12, 2021) (Prost, J.) (consolidating PersonalWeb Techs. LLC v. Facebook, Inc., Case No. 20-1553, and PersonalWeb Techs. LLC, Level 3 Commc’ns. LLC v. EMC Corp., VMWare, Inc., Case No. 20-1554).

PersonalWeb sued technology companies in the Eastern District of Texas in 2011 over three of its patents. The patents were directed to data-processing systems that assign each data item a substantially unique content-based identifier, generated by hash algorithm, which changes when the content changes and is used to perform data-management functions. Several defendants successfully motioned for transfer to the Northern District of California, where their companies were headquartered and/or their employees responsible for the development of the accused products were based. After claim construction in Texas, the cases were transferred and stayed pending several inter partes reviews before the US Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board). Previous decisions before the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s findings that using hash-based identifiers for data management was disclosed in the prior art, that content-based identifiers in performing file-management functions, such as backing up files, were also known and other independently unpatentable aspects were recited in the claims. After the stay was lifted, the California court granted the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings that the remaining asserted claims were patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. PersonalWeb appealed.

To assess patent eligibility, the Federal Circuit applied the two-step Mayo/Alice framework. Under step one (determining whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept, such as an abstract idea), the Court considered the focus of the claimed advance over the prior art and found that the claims were directed to an abstract idea. PersonalWeb contended that its claims were directed to “a substantially unique, algorithm-derived, content-based identifier for all data items in a networked computer, which allows a computer within a network containing diverse computing and storage systems to locate and distribute data without knowing either the file system of any device within the network or the conventional name of any data item.” However, the Court adopted the district court’s view, which was that the patents were directed to “(1) using a content-based identifier generated from a ‘hash or message digest function,’ (2) comparing that content-based identifier against something else, [that is,] another content-based identifier or a request for data; and (3) providing access to, denying access to, or deleting data.” Given the focus in Mayo/Alice step one of “whether the claims of the asserted patents fall within the excluded category of abstract ideas,” and citing to parallel examples from precedent cases, the Court concluded that the claims were directed to the use of an algorithm-generated content-based identifier to perform the claimed data-management functions, which include controlling access to data items, retrieving and delivering copies [...]

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Diehr Alice, Yu are Superimposing Novelty onto Patent Eligibility. Love, Newman.

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the basis that, under the two-step Alice analysis, the patent claims—directed to a digital camera—were directed to ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Yu, et al. v. Apple Inc., et al., Case Nos. 20-1760; -1803 (Fed. Cir. June 11, 2021) (Prost, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting)

The patent claim under consideration recited an “improved digital camera” that has two lenses, two image sensors, an analog-to-digital converter, a memory and a digital image processor for “producing a resultant digital image from said first digital image enhanced with said second digital image.” Yu conceded that “the idea and practice of using multiple pictures to enhance each other has been known by photographers for over a century” and that the components recited in the claim “are themselves generic and conventional.”

Applying the Supreme Court’s two-step Alice v. CLS Bank test for determining patent eligible subject matter, the Federal Circuit determined at step one that the claim was “directed to the abstract idea of taking two pictures . . . and using one picture to enhance the other in some way.” At step two, the Court held that the claim failed to otherwise define a patent eligible invention because the digital camera “is recited at a high level of generality and merely invokes well-understood, routine, conventional components to apply the abstract idea of [using one picture to enhance the other in some way].” The Court rejected Yu’s attempts to use portions of the patent’s specification to support eligibility, explaining that the eligibility analysis is limited to the literal recitations of the asserted claims.

Then, along came Judge Pauline Newman. With a chainsaw.

In dissent, Judge Newman argued that the majority was improperly enlarging the § 101 analysis to include other “substantive requirements of patentability.” Judge Newman emphasized (twice) that the claim literally recited an electromechanical camera, not an abstract idea. In her view, the camera recited in the claim met the requirements of § 101 as a new and useful machine, without regard to whether the claimed camera also met the novelty requirements of §§ 102 and 103. Referring to the Supreme Court’s 1981 holding in Diamond v. Diehr, Judge Newman wrote that “[i]n contravention of [Diehr‘s] explicit distinction between Section 101 and Section 102, the majority now holds that the [claimed] camera is an abstract idea because the camera’s components were well-known and conventional and perform only their basic functions.” Judge Newman further proclaimed that “the principle that the majority today invokes was long ago discarded.”

Judge Newman also admonished the majority for the destabilizing effects that similar holdings have already had on US patent policy. She noted that “[i]n the current state of Section 101 jurisprudence, inconsistency and unpredictability of adjudication have destabilized technologic development in important fields of commerce,” and that “[t]he fresh uncertainties engendered by the majority’s revision of Section 101 are contrary to the statute and [...]

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Arthrex Argument May Be Available in Round Two

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that a party did not waive the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (Board) constitutionality argument by raising it for the first time in its opening brief because the Court’s decision in Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. was issued after the party sought rehearing. New Vision Gaming v. SG Gaming, Inc., Case Nos. 20-1399, -1400 (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2021) (Moore, J.) (Newman, J. concurring in part, dissenting in part)

New Vision appealed two covered-business method (CBM) review final written decisions in which the Board found that all claims of the patents, as well as its proposed substitute claims, were directed to patent ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In its opening brief before the Federal Circuit, New Vision requested the Court vacate and remand the Board’s decisions in light of Arthrex. SG Gaming argued New Vision had waived its right to a challenge under Arthrex since it raised it for the first time on an appeal. The Court disagreed, finding that New Vision had not waived its ability to challenge the Board’s decision under Arthrex since Arthrex was issued after the Board’s final written decisions and after New Vision sought Board rehearing. The Court vacated the Board’s final written decisions in the CBMs and remanded for further proceedings consistent with Arthrex without reaching the merits or any other issues.

In her partial dissent, Judge Pauline Newman agreed that Arthrex applied and vacating the Board’s final written decisions was appropriate. She also argued that another threshold issue (venue) should have been resolved, rendering the remand under Arthrex unnecessary and unwarranted. Additionally, Judge Newman agreed with New Vision that since the parties agreed to a different forum for dispute resolution in their license agreement, compliance with the parties’ patent license agreement would be appropriate. Under that agreement, if “any dispute” arose, jurisdiction would be “exclusive” in the appropriate federal or state court in the state of Nevada. New Vision filed suit in the federal district court in Nevada before SG filed CBM petitions before the Board. The Board stated it “[does] not discern, nor has Patent Owner pointed to, any portions of chapter 32 or § 18 of the AIA, or authority otherwise, that explicitly provide for a contractual estoppel defense,” in its decision and proceeded to a final decision despite the forum selection agreement.

Both parties briefed the forum selection question, with New Vision citing the Federal Circuit 2019 decision in Dodocase VR v. MerchSource in which a case was removed from the Board based on an agreed choice of forum. SG countered that the Board’s rejection of choice of forum is an unreviewable “institution” decision under Thryv vs. Click-to-Call. Andrei Iancu, the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), intervened in the appeal, arguing that the Board’s decision is “final and nonappealable” under 35 U.S.C. § 324(e). As to the Board’s “conduct” in declining to [...]

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