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Set Phase to Subject Matter Ineligible: More Accurate Haplotype Phase Method Still Abstract

In an appeal from a final rejection of a pending application, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that claims directed to methods for determining “haplotype phase” were correctly rejected as subject matter ineligible. In Re: Board of Trustees of The Leland Stanford Junior University, Case No. 20-1288 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 11, 2021) (Reyna, J.)

This case was consolidated for the purposes of oral argument with In Re: The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, Case No. 20-1012 (Stanford Part I). Both cases relate to methods of determining “haplotype phase” (a scientific way of describing the methodology for determining from which parent a particular allele (or gene) is inherited).

Stanford Part I related to a claimed method that utilized “linkage disequilibrium data” and “transition probability data” to increase the number of haplotype predictions made. In Stanford Part I, the Federal Circuit held that this claimed method for increasing the number of haplotype predictions made did nothing more than recite a haplotype phase algorithm and instruct users to “apply it,” similar to the claimed subject matter prohibited by Alice.

The claims at issue in this appeal were directed toward a method of improving the accuracy and efficiency of haplotype predictions, which involves “building a data structure describing a Hidden Markov Model,” and then “repeatedly randomly modifying at least one of the imputed initial haplotype phases” to automatically recompute the parameters of the Hidden Markov Model until the parameters indicate that the most likely haplotype phase is found. In addition to these mathematical steps, the claims recited the steps of receiving genotype data, imputing an initial haplotype phase, extracting the final predicted haplotype phase from the data structure and storing it in computer memory.

The examiner and then the Patent Trial & Appeal Board found that this claimed improved process was directed toward patent-eligible subject matter—a mathematical algorithm. Stanford appealed.

Applying the two-step Alice framework, the Federal Circuit first determined whether the claims were directed to an abstract mathematical calculation and thus directed to patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 USC § 101.

Stanford argued that the claimed process was not directed to a patent-ineligible abstract idea, but instead represented an improvement on a technological process—namely, an improvement in the efficiency of haplotype phase predictions that this mathematical algorithm could yield. The Federal Circuit found that Stanford had forfeited this argument by failing to raise it before the Board.

Stanford separately argued that another claimed advantage was that the claim steps resulted in more accurate haplotype predictions, rendering the claimed invention a practical application rather than an abstract idea. The Federal Circuit disagreed, explaining that the improvement in computational accuracy alleged here did not qualify as an improvement to a technological process, but rather was an enhancement to the abstract mathematical calculation of haplotype phase itself.

Next, under step two of the Alice inquiry, the Federal Circuit found that the claims did not include additional limitations that, when taken as a whole, provided an [...]

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New or Not, Object-Oriented Simulation Patent Ineligible Under § 101

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s pleadings-stage determination that patent claims directed to an object-oriented simulation were subject matter ineligible under 35 USC § 101. Simio, LLC v. FlexSim Software Prod., Inc., Case No. 20-1171 (Fed. Cir. Dec 29, 2020) (Prost, C.J.).

Simio filed suit against FlexSim for infringement of patent claims directed to object-oriented simulations in which one instance of an object may have behaviors assigned to it without changing the generic object’s definition. FlexSim moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. of Civ. P.12(b)(6), arguing that the patent was invalid under 35 USC § 101. The district court granted FlexSim’s motion to dismiss, finding that the asserted claims were directed to the ineligible abstract idea of substituting text-based coding with graphical processing and that FlexSim properly showed there was no inventive concept or alteration sufficient to make the system patent-eligible. Simio appealed.

The Federal Circuit reviewed the dismissal order and its underlying patent eligibility conclusions de novo. Under the two-step Alice/Mayo framework, the Court affirmed. Considering the first step of the Alice/Mayo framework, the Court agreed that the asserted claims were “directed to the abstract idea of using graphics instead of programming to create object-oriented simulations.” The Court rejected Simio’s argument that the “executable process to add a new behavior to an object instance” improved the functionality of the computer on which it ran, concluding that no improvement was made to the computer and that the claim limitation did not change the claim’s “character as a whole.” As to step two of the Alice/Mayo framework, whether the claim limited the abstract idea to an inventive concept, the Federal Circuit concluded that, while the claim may be directed to a new idea, it is still an abstract one lacking any inventive concept or application of the idea. The Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.

The Federal Circuit next addressed whether the district court erred in denying Simio’s motion for leave to amend its complaint. The Court concluded that, after disregarding conclusory statements, Simio’s amended complaint just repackaged the same assertions of non-abstractness as the original complaint. Citing its holding in ShoppersChoice.com (IP Update, May 2020), the Court also rejected Simio’s argument that the district court should have conducted claim construction before determining eligibility. In ShoppersChoice.com, the Court held that pleadings-stage patent eligibility decisions may be proper when the patentee does not explain how a term’s construction could affect the analysis.

Finally, the Federal Circuit raised its own independent reasoning for denying Simio’s motion for leave to amend, explaining that it “may affirm on any grounds for which there is a record sufficient to permit conclusions of law, even grounds not relied upon by the district court.” The Court found that Simio failed to show good cause for seeking leave to amend after the scheduling order’s deadline. Namely, Simio’s amended complaint contained no facts that could not have been alleged before the deadline. Nor did Simio demonstrate any relevant [...]

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Check Step One: It’s Not Ova until the Court Compares Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s decision finding a patent directed to a method of sorting particles using flow cytometry technology ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Federal Circuit also vacated the district court’s conclusion that the patent owner was precluded from asserting certain patents based on claim preclusion. XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, LC, Case No. 19-1789 (Fed. Cir. July 31, 2020) (Stoll, J.).

XY, Beckman Coulter and Inguran (collectively, XY) sued Trans Ova in 2016 for infringement of seven patents relating to technology for sex selection of non-human mammals. Trans Ova filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the asserted claims of one of the patents are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Applying the Supreme Court’s two-step Alice framework for determining patent eligibility, the district court determined that the claims are ineligible under § 101. At Alice step one, the district court found that the patent’s sole independent claim was directed to the abstract idea of a “mathematical equation that permits rotating multi-dimensional data.” At Alice step two, the district court found that the asserted claims lacked an inventive concept because XY admitted that each claim element was known in the art.

Trans Ova also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the district court should hold XY’s infringement allegations barred by claim preclusion. The argument was based on XY’s 2012 lawsuit against Trans Ova on infringement of different patents directed to similar technology (which was pending on appeal when the 2016 case was filed). The district court granted Trans Ova’s motion to dismiss infringement allegations of three patents cited in the 2016 suit, and stayed proceedings on XY’s remaining causes of action pending the outcome of the 2016 suit’s appeal. XY appealed the district court’s dismissal decision.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that the district court erred in finding that the claims are directed to a mathematical equation under Alice step one. The Court concluded that the asserted claims are directed to a patent-eligible improvement of a method of sorting particles using flow cytometry technology, not to an abstract idea. XY’s claim described detailed improvements to a physical technique, a step-by-step method for a laboratory process, which is patent eligible.

As to the issue of claim preclusion, the parties’ only dispute was whether the district court properly concluded that XY’s 2012 and 2016 lawsuits present the same cause of action. A cause of action is defined based on the transactional facts from which it arises, which in a patent case include both the asserted patents and the accused activity. Claim preclusion will be triggered by different patents only if the scope of the asserted patent claims in the two suits is essentially the same.

XY argued that the district court erred by failing to compare the currently asserted patent claims to the previously asserted patent claims to determine whether the causes of action in the two lawsuits are essentially the same. The Federal Circuit [...]

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Verdict Delivered: Shipment Notification Claims are Patent Ineligible—Even with Security Flair

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s pleadings-stage determination that a patent claim directed to a delivery notification system was subject matter ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Elec. Commc’n Techs., LLC v. ShoppersChoice.com, LLC, Case No. 19-1587 (Fed. Cir. May 14, 2020) (Prost, C.J.).

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Focusing on Functionality, Software Claims Found Patent Eligible

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that patent claims directed to a communication system were patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because the claimed invention changes the normal operation of a communication system to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks. Uniloc USA, Inc. v. LG Electronics USA, Inc., Case No. 19-1835 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 30, 2020) (Moore, J.).

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