Open Text v. Alfresco Software, 13-CV-04843-JD, 2014 WL 4684429 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 19, 2014) Open Text SA v Alfresco Software Ltd
Citing Alice Corp. as the deciding factor, Judge Donato has invalidated a set of challenged claims in U.S. Patent Nos. 7,647,372 and 7,975,007 owned by Open Text. Here, Open Text has only asserted claim 38 of the ‘372 patent and claim 22 of the ‘007 patent — both claims are now adjudged invalid. As you’ll see below, the claims are so poorly and ambiguously drafted as to make an invalidity determination likely on other grounds as well.
[T]he Court finds that the challenged claims are directed to a very simple abstract marketing idea that uses generic computer and Internet technology, and contain no additional inventive concept.
The two companies in the lawsuit compete in a growing market for enterprise-wide information management (EIM). Claim 38 at issue is directed toward the software in the form of a “computer readable storage medium” containing a set of instructions. Basically, we have a claimed computer program that creates a group of “participants” based upon whether someone interacted with a web site, then it designates a subset of participants and executes an “instruction” associated with an “action” performed “in conjunction” with each member of the subset. Seriously? The claim reads as follows (with its independent claim).
37. A computer readable storage medium for facilitating a network based dialogue, comprising instructions translatable for:
assembling a set of first corresponding participants, wherein assembling the first set of corresponding participants comprises executing a first instruction of a first program in conjunction with each of the first corresponding participants, wherein the first instruction is operable to determine the occurrence of a first specified event in conjunction with each of the first corresponding participants;
assembling a set of second corresponding participants, wherein each of the set of second corresponding participants is in the set of first corresponding participants; and
executing a second instruction in conjunction with each of the second set of corresponding participants, wherein the second instruction is associated with a first action to be performed in conjunction with each of the set of second corresponding participants.
38. The computer readable storage medium of claim 37, wherein the first specified event is an interaction with a web site.
Following Alice Corp., the district court first identified the abstract idea embodied by the claim.
[The claims] recite a very simple computer-driven method to engage in the commonplace and time-honored practice of interacting with customers to promote marketing and sales.” Claim 38 … claims a storage medium containing software that identifies whether each participant in a set of participants has interacted with a website, assembles a set of second participants that are a subset of the first group, and performs an second action with that subset. This describes the most basic and widely-understood principle of marketing: identify potential or current customers and engage with them to improve their customer experience. On its face, asking a customer about his or her experience and replying “Thank You” to those who respond positively and, “I’m sorry, what can we do better?” to those who respond negatively is an unpatentable abstract idea.
With that unpatentable abstract idea in mind, the court then considered (and rejected) the notion that the claim provides an “inventive concept” or “something more” that would positively transform its eligibility.
The additional steps must be more than “well-understood, routine, conventional activity” or just computerizing the abstract idea. . . .
The asserted claims … fail to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention. The asserted claims in both patents implement the basic marketing scheme on a generic computer system without any meaningful limitations. Open Text’s counsel conceded at the hearing that the patents could be implemented on a generic computer. Open Text argues that the asserted claims “contain limitations tying them to specific ways of using computers.” But as the Court in Alice Corp. and the Federal Circuit have concluded, “[a]t best, that narrowing is an attempt to limit the use of the abstract … idea to a particular technological environment, which has long been held insufficient to save a claim in this context.” buySAFE. For example, although claim 37 of the ‘372 patent—from which claim 38 depends ––––recites a “computer readable storage medium,” this adds nothing of substance to the basic, patent-ineligible marketing scheme. … Nor does claim 38’s requirement that participants be identified based on their interaction with a website compel a different result: simply identifying a criterion for selecting participants is a prime example of attempting to save a claim by limiting it to a particular technological environment.
Here, the court purposefully characterized the invention in the business method context with the unpatentable abstract idea being a longstanding principle of marketing. What remains to be seen is how courts will react to software patents whose abstraction are not focused on old business ideas.