On April 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) issued a ruling in People.ai, Inc. v. Clari Inc. affirming a judgment on the pleadings that nixed patent infringement claims asserted by People.ai in the Northern District of California. The Federal Circuit’s opinion, authored by Circuit Judge Tiffany Cunningham, agreed with the district court that People.ai’s patent claims to recordkeeping management systems were directed to abstract ideas that are unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because they claimed no more than steps that do not differ from long-prevalent manual practices in recordkeeping management.
On January 24, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held EscapeX IP LLC’s U.S. Patent No. 9,009,113 patent ineligible as being directed to an abstract idea. The patent covers a process for allowing users to upload “dynamic albums” to be stored on their devices. The district court granted Block, Inc.’s (better known as music streaming platform Tidal) motion to dismiss the patent infringement suit pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. According to the district court opinion, the patent’s specification states that “the patent seeks to remedy certain problems that currently exist with music streaming, including artists’ inability to effectively monetize their music, their lack of control over content once users have downloaded it, and the disconnect between streaming services and artists’ social media pages.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) today affirmed a decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granting judgment on the pleadings to Google, Facebook, EMC Corporation and VMware, Inc. that PersonalWeb Technologies’ patent claims were ineligible under Section 101. The decision was precedential and written by Judge Prost. The case has a long history and the CAFC has dealt with the patented technology before. The specific patents at issue here are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,802,310 (“the ’310 patent”), 6,415,280 (“the ’280 patent”), and 7,949,662 (“the ’662 patent”). The patents generally cover “data-processing systems that assign each data item a substantially unique name that depends on the item’s content—a content-based identifier.”
On March 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirmed the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to hold the rejected claims from Leland Stanford Junior University (Stanford) were not patent eligible because the claims are drawn to abstract mathematical calculations and statistical modeling. The examiner rejected claims 1, 4 to 11, 14 to 25, and 27 to 30 of U.S. Application Nos. 13/445,925 (‘925 application), “methods and computing systems for determining haplotype phase,” for involving patent ineligible subject matter. The CAFC applied the two-step framework under Alice v. CLS Bank to determine whether the claims were patent eligible.
On October 13, 2020, Cybergenetics filed a notice of appeal to the Federal Circuit from a decision of the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, that held the patent claims asserted by Cybergenetics invalid under 35 U.S.C. 101, and granting the defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Cybergenetics’ brief on appeal is due December 28, 2020.
On November 2, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in Google LLC v. Sonos, Inc., issued an order granting Sonos’s motion to dismiss a cause of action for infringement of Google’s U.S. Patent No. 8,583,489 (the ‘489 patent). The court found that the ‘489 patent was patent ineligible as being directed to an abstract idea. Google filed a patent infringement suit against Sonos alleging that Sonos infringed five of Google’s patents, including the ‘489 patent, which is directed to systems and methods for bookmarking media content for future availability. Sonos moved to dismiss the cause of action with respect to the ‘489 patent on the ground that it was directed to ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 as an abstract idea. The ‘489 patent relates to a method of “determining if media content is available from different content sources” and “notifying a user when the availability of the media content changes.”
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirmed a decision of the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Electronic Communication Technologies, LLC. v. ShoppersChoice.com, LLC. In particular, Electronic Communication Technologies, LLC (ECT) sued ShoppersChoice for infringement of claim 11 of U.S. Patent No. 9,373,261 (“the ’261 patent”) in the district court. The district court granted ShoppersChoice’s motion for summary judgment that claim 11 of the ’261 patent was invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101. ECT appealed and the CAFC affirmed. Judge Prost delivered the opinion for the Court.
Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in an opinion authored by Judge Moore, reversed and remanded a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which had found that certain claims of Uniloc’s U.S. Patent No. 6,993,049 were ineligible under Section 101 as being directed to an abstract idea. The Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that the claims at issue were directed to a “patent-eligible improvement to computer functionality.”
As anticipated, the Chamberlain Group, Inc., in a corrected petition for rehearing filed today, asked an en banc panel of the Federal Circuit to reconsider its August 21 precedential decision, which in part reversed a district court’s finding that certain claims of Chamberlain’s patent for a “moveable barrier operator” (for example, a garage door opener) were not abstract under Section 101. “Not only did the panel err in resolving [Alice] step two in the first instance, it misapplied an essential requirement of step two,” says the Chamberlain petition. In addition to contradicting its own assertions that appellate courts should not conduct fact-finding, the Federal Circuit’s approach conflates Alice steps one and two, “focusing the step two inquiry on the abstract idea itself, disregarding the ‘additional elements’ inquiry of Alice,” the petition adds.
The Federal Circuit recently vacated and remanded a decision by the Northern District of California granting a motion on the pleadings that claims related to “toolbars” on computers were ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Court, holding that the district court failed to address a claim construction dispute, was “hesitant to construe patent claims in the first instance on appeal” and remanded for further proceedings. Judge Lourie authored a dissent, finding the claims to be “clearly abstract, regardless of claim construction,” and opined that he would have affirmed the district court’s holding. See MyMail, Ltd. v. ooVoo, LLC, Nos. 2018-1758, 2018-1759, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 24430 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 16, 2019) (Before Lourie, O’Malley, and Reyna, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Reyna, Circuit Judge) (Dissenting opinion, Lourie, Circuit Judge).
The Federal Circuit recently reversed the District of Minnesota’s denial of summary judgment in Solutran, Inc. v. Elavon, Inc., Nos. 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 22516 (Fed. Cir. July 30, 2019) (Before Chen, Hughes, and Stoll, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Chen, Circuit Judge), holding that the claims at issue, which related to processing paper checks, were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The physicality of the limitations of the claims did not save the claims. See Physicality of Processing Paper Checks Does Not Save Solutran’s Claims. “[W]e have previously explained that merely reciting an abstract idea by itself in a claim—even if the idea is novel and non-obvious—is not enough to save it from ineligibility,” Judge Raymond Chen of the Federal Circuit explained for the majority. The Federal Circuit can state that proposition until every single judge is blue in the face and there will be one exhausting, inescapable truth—it is wrong! Indeed, this logical impossibility is written into so many Federal Circuit decisions one must wonder how it is possible any of the judges who believe this nonsense were ever able to achieve an acceptable score on the LSAT in order to gain admission to law school in the first place.
A Federal Circuit panel comprising Judges Lourie, O’Malley and Chen issued a precedential opinion yesterday, August 21, in part reversing a district court’s finding that certain claims of Chamberlain Group, Inc.’s (CGI’s) patent for a “moveable barrier operator” (for example, a garage door opener) were not abstract under Section 101. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied Techtronic Industries’ (TTI’s) motion for judgment as a matter of law that the asserted claims were patent-ineligible and granted CGI’s motions for enhanced damages and attorney fees. The district court disagreed with TTI’s assertion that the claims at issue were directed to the abstract idea of wireless transmission of content, instead finding that “[h]ere, the ’275 patent claims are not directed to the transmission of data, but to garage door openers that wirelessly transmit status information.”
On June 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an opinion in Cellspin Soft, Inc. v. Fitbit, Inc. (2018-1817, 2018-1819 to 1826), reversing a district court’s grant of various Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss complaints that alleged patent infringement based on U.S. Pat. No. 8,738,794 (the ’794 patent), U.S. Pat. No. 8,892,752 (the ’752 patent), U.S. Pat. No. 9,258,698 (the ’698 patent), and U.S. Pat. No. 9,749,847 (the ’847 patent). The Federal Circuit did so because the district court misconstrued precedent from both Aatrix Software, Inc. v. Green Shades Software, Inc., 882 F.3d 1121 (Fed. Cir. 2018) and Berkheimer v. HP Inc., 881 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2018). The Federal Circuit panel consisted of Judges Lourie, O’Malley, and Taranto. Judge O’Malley authored the panel’s opinion. he Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the claims were directed to an abstract idea but reversed anyway on the basis of the district court failing to conduct a proper Alice step two. This was because the district court ignored Cellspin’s factual allegations that, when properly accepted as true, precluded the grant of a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
It is safe to say that Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are hot topics and, as with any rapidly growing technological area on the industry side, there is also a rapidly growing number of patent applications being filed.In view of this, the European Patent Office (EPO) issued new guidance for examination for AI and ML patent applications in November 2018. Meanwhile, in January 2019, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) also issued revised guidance directed to what constitutes patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101. Although the USPTO’s revised guidance is more generally directed to software applications, at least one of the accompanying hypothetical examples (Example 39) is directed to the AI and ML space. Therefore, while there may be lingering concerns that AI and ML inventions will face extra scrutiny toward patentability due to their software-centric nature, the extra attention that the EPO and USPTO are paying toward AI and ML will likely help swing the pendulum of patentable subject matter toward a place that is in harmony with the current state of technology. The below analysis reviews the recent developments by the EPO and the USPTO to provide specific guidance on the topic of AI and ML.
In essence, by narrowly identifying certain subject matter groups as being those that properly qualify for characterization as abstract ideas the USPTO is effectively defining what is and what is not an abstract idea, thereby filling a void intentionally left ambiguous by both the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit. It has been frustrating — to say the least — that courts have refused to define the term abstract idea despite that being the critical term in the Supreme Court’s extra-statutory patent eligibility test. Without a definition for the term abstract idea rulings have been nothing short of subjective; some would even say arbitrary and capricious.