by Dennis Crouch
In a short opinion, Judge Taranto has affirmed the lower court ruling that Electric Power Group’s asserted claims lacked subject matter eligibility. U.S. Patent Nos. 7,233,843; 8,060,259; and 8,401,710. The court writes:
Though lengthy and numerous, the claims do not go beyond requiring the collection, analysis, and display of available information in a particular field, stating those functions in general terms, without limiting them to technical means for performing the functions that are arguably an advance over conventional computer and network technology. The claims, defining a desirable information-based result and not limited to inventive means of achieving the result, fail under § 101.
Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A. (Fed. Cir. August 1, 2016) [EPGvsAlstom] (Judges Taranto, Bryson, and Stoll).
The claims at issue require the reception of real-time data coming in from a wide geographical distribution; analyzing the data for instability that may be indicative of grid stress; displaying visualizations of the stability metrics; storing the data; and deriving a composite indicator of power grid reliability. According to the court, this sequence – even when taken as a whole – is an abstract idea. Thus, a collection of abstract ideas is itself likely to be an abstract idea.
In distinguishing Enfish, the court explained that the claims here merely used “existing computers as tools in aid of processes focused on abstract ideas” while Enfish claimed “computer-functionality improvements . . . a particular database technique—in how computers could carry out one of their basic functions of storage and retrieval of data.” Although line drawing may be admittedly difficult at times it was not difficult for the court here.
In Step-Two of a Alice/Mayo, the courts asks whether the claims require “something more” than the abstract idea that is sufficient to serve as a foundation for the invention. Although not entirely clear, this “something more” is generally thought to require an inventive concept – a point of novelty sufficient to transform the idea into a patent eligible invention. Here, the court found that none of the sources of information, analysis & display techniques, or measures were new or inventive.
The claims in this case . . . do not include any requirement for performing the claimed functions of gathering, analyzing, and displaying in real time by use of anything but entirely conventional, generic technology. The claims therefore do not state an arguably inventive concept in the realm of application of the information-based abstract ideas.
According to the patentee, the benefit of the invention was to provide “humanly comprehensible” information regarding an extremely complex system. The court rejected that result as offering a patent eligible concept:
Merely requiring the selection and manipulation of information—to provide a “humanly comprehensible” amount of information useful for users, by itself does not transform the otherwise-abstract processes of information collection and analysis.
Common Sense Distinction: Perhaps the most important added element of the opinion is the appellate court’s approval of the lower court’s “important common-sense distinction between ends sought and particular means of achieving them, between desired results (functions) and particular ways of achieving (performing) them.” Here, the court found that the claims were effectively directed to the problem-to-be-solved rather than the actual and concretely defined solution to the problem. Although the appellate panel acknowledged that this distinction is not the Alice/Mayo test, but rather as “one helpful way of double-checking the application of the Supreme Court’s framework to particular claims.”
Indeed, the essentially result-focused, functional character of claim language has been a frequent feature of claims held ineligible under § 101, especially in the area of using generic computer and network technology to carry out economic transactions. In this case, the district court’s wrap-up description confirms its, and our, conclusion that the claims at issue fail to meet the standard for patent eligibility under § 101.
This statement of the appellate court is designed to further free district courts to apply common sense in their Section 101 analysis.