by Dennis Crouch
A few days ago I wrote about the Federal Circuit decision in Affinity Labs. v. DirecTV affirming that Affinity’s U.S. Patent No. 8,688,085 claims an ineligible abstract idea rather than a patent eligible invention.
The companion case – Affinity Labs v. Amazon was decided by the same panel of Chief Judge Prost and Judges Bryson (author) and Wallach and U.S. Patent No. 7,970,379 and also affirmed that the challenged claims lack eligibility under Section 101.
In DirectTV, the court first “stripped” the representative claim “of excess verbiage.” Using the same approach but different words, the Amazon court here offered its version of the representative claim “stated more succinctly:” the claim “is directed to a network-based media system with a customized user interface, in which the system delivers streaming content from a network-based resource upon demand to a handheld wireless electronic device having a graphical user interface.” [Full claim text below]
Abstract Idea: Analyzing the claimed invention, the court found that the claims are directed to a high level of generality “describing a desired function or outcome, without providing any limiting detail that confines the claim to a particular solution to an identified problem. The purely functional nature of the claim confirms that it is directed to an abstract idea, not to a concrete embodiment of that idea.” In Enfish, the court considered technological inventions and queried whether the invention represents “an improvement in the functioning of a computer,” or merely “adding conventional computer components to well-known business practices.” Here, of course, the invention uses more than just a “computer component” but the court still found Enfish applicable — finding that the claims “fall into the latter [ineligible] category.” Further, the “tailoring of content based on information about the user . . . is an abstract idea that is as old as providing different newspaper inserts for different neighborhoods.” Slip opinion at 10.
Burden Shifting for Step Two?: Once a patent is deemed to be directed to an abstract idea, the burden appears to shift against the patentee to show that the claim includes “something more” such as an “innovative concept” that goes beyond the ineligible abstract idea. This burden-shifting would go against the traditional rule that each each element in an invalidity analysis must be proven with clear and convincing evidence — and so it may still be proper to say that the challenger also has the burden under Step Two of Alice/Mayo to show the claim includes “nothing more” of patentable weight. A complication of this internal dialogue is that eligibility is deemed a question of law whereas the C&C evidentiary requirement applies only to questions of fact. That distinction became important in this case since the district court dismissed the case on the pleadings prior to the consideration of any factual conflicts.
Nothing More: Enfish substantially increased the overlap between Steps One and Two of the eligibility analysis. Typically, if a claim includes an eligible inventive concept then it will not be deemed directed to an abstract idea in the first place. Here, the court found the converse logic also true:
As noted [in our Enfish analysis], representative claim 14 is written in largely functional terms, claiming “a collection of instructions” that perform the functions of displaying a selection of available content on a graphical user interface and allowing the user to request streaming of that content. . . . [These features] do not convert the abstract idea of delivering media content to a handheld electronic device into a concrete solution to a problem. The features set forth in the claims are described and claimed generically rather than with the specificity necessary to show how those components provide a concrete solution to the problem addressed by the patent.
Thus, the claim fails under Step Two as well – Judgment on the Pleadings of Invalidity Affirmed.
= = = = =
The court noted that the title of the patent ““System and Method to Communicate Targeted Information” has essentially no relation to the asserted claims. That disconnect had no direct impact on patentability. However, it appears to have lent credence to the notion that the claims lack innovative weight and technical application since the focus of the claims is something different than what was originally thought to be innovative and worth extensive description.
= = = = =
Claim 14: A media system, comprising:
a network based media managing system that maintains a library of content that a given user has a right to access and a customized user interface page for the given user;
a collection of instructions stored in a nontransitory storage medium and configured for execution by a processor of a handheld wireless device, the collection of instructions operable when executed: (1) to initiate presentation of a graphical user interface for the network based media managing system; (2) to facilitate a user selection of content included in the library; and (3) to send a request for a streaming delivery of the content; and
a network based delivery resource maintaining a list of network locations for at least a portion of the content, the network based delivery resource configured to respond to the request by retrieving the portion from an appropriate network location and streaming a representation of the portion to the handheld wireless device.
= = = = =