By Dennis Crouch
In Ultramercial v. Hulu, the Federal Circuit held that Ultramercial's asserted Patent No. 7,346,545 fit within the subject matter eligibility guidelines of 35 U.S.C. § 101 and was not merely an unpatentable abstract idea. The patent claims a method of distributing copyrighted products (such as a movie) over the internet. The novel idea is that the copyrighted product be both (1) offered for sale and (2) delivered for free if the consumer agrees to view an advertisement. The district court held the patent invalid under section 101. On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit reversed – holding that the patent claims a "practical application" of the idea that "advertising can serve as a currency." An important element of the decision was the finding that "[v]iewing the subject matter as a whole, the invention involves an extensive computer interface."
Now, WildTangent (one of the accused infringers) has petitioned for a rehearing en banc. The public interest organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a brief in support of the rehearing – arguing that an en banc determination is necessary in light of (1) the court's failure to follow Bilski v. Kappos; (2) inconsistencies in application of the law apparent from the court's recent decisions in Ultramercial, Classen Immunotherapies v. Biogen IDEC, and CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc.; and (3) a growing intra-circuit division regarding patentable subject matter jurisprudence. This filing ties-in closely with the pending Supreme Court case of Mayo v. Prometheus, which questions the patentability of a method of personalizing the dosage of a pharmaceutical and the pending case of AMP v. Myriad, which questions the patentability of isolated human DNA. Other pending Section 101 cases include DealerTrack, Inc. v. Huber (App. No. 2010-1544) (Claims 1, 3, and 4 of U.S. Patent No. 7,181,427); FuzzySharp Tech., Inc. v. 3DLabs Inc. (App. No. 2010-1160) (U.S. Patent Nos. 6,172,679 and 6,618,047); CLS Bank Int'l. v. Alice Corp (App. No. 2011-1301) (Patent No. 7,725,375); Cognex v. ITC (App. No. 2011-1098) (Patent Nos. 7,016,539 and 7,065,262); and Fort Properties, Inc. v. American Master Lease LLC (App. No. 2009-1242) (Patent No. 6,292,788).