EasyWeb v. Twitter (Fed. Cir. 2017) (nonprecedential opinion)
In this case, the appellate court affirmed summary judgment that all of the asserted claims of five EasyWeb patents are ineligible under the Mayo/Alice interpretation of 35 U.S.C. 101 and therefore invalid.
Representative Claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 7,685,247 is directed to a message-publishing-system that “accepts messages in multiple ways, such as by fax, telephone, or email” then verifies the message as being sent from an authorized sender, converts the message to a web format, and publishes the message on the Internet. Although claim 1 is directed to a computer system, it includes a functionally claimed software component:
A message publishing system (MPS) operative to process a message from a sender in a first format, comprising:
a central processor;
at least one sender account;
at least one storage area configured to store at least a first portion of the message;
and software executing in the central processor to configure the processor so as to:
- identify the sender of the message as an authorized sender based on information associated with the message in comparison to data in the sender account, wherein the identification is dependent upon the first format;
- convert at least a second portion of the message from the first format to a second format; and
- publish the converted second portion of the message so as to be viewable in the second format only if the sender has been identified as an authorized sender.
Following the now standard two-step eligibility analysis, the court first found the claim directed toward an abstract idea.
Claim 1 merely recites the familiar concepts of receiving, authenticating, and publishing data. As we have explained in a number of cases, claims involving data collection, analysis, and publication are directed to an abstract idea.
Of import here for the abstract idea finding is that the claim simply uses generic computer technology rather than improving-upon the technology or designing particularized components.
Moving to step-two, the court looked – but could not find – an “inventive concept” beyond the claimed abstract idea sufficient to “transform the nature of the claim’ into a patent-eligible application.” (quoting Alice).
Although EasyWeb argues that an inventive concept arises from the ordered combination of steps in claim 1, we disagree. Claim 1 recites the most basic of steps in data collection, analysis, and publication and they are recited in the ordinary order. In sum, all the claims are directed to the abstract idea of receiving, authenticating, and publishing data, and fail to recite any inventive concepts sufficient to transform the abstract idea into a patent eligible invention.
Its decision is not quite correct, the Federal Circuit does not find abstract ideas simply because a claim involves “data collection, analysis, and publication.” However, when (as here), the claim is directed toward these activities at a high level of abstraction, then the Alice/Mayo approach easily fits.
Analytically, the decision adds further weight to the theory that steps 1 and 2 are closely linked and are highly likely to correlate with one another.