by Dennis Crouch
Maxon v. Funai (Fed. Cir. 2018) (nonprecedential opinion)
In a sweeping judgment,the N.D. Ill. district court dismissed Maxon’s infringement case — finding the claims of the plaintiff’s four asserted patents to be invalid for claiming ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed.
The patents here are all part of the same family — all directed to a seeming business method of providing an “electronic means of increasing user control over subscription entertainment content.” U.S. Patent Nos. 8,989,160; 7,489,671; 7,486,649; and 7,171,194. Although the bulk of the patents were issued pre-Alice (2014), the ‘160 was issued later in 2015. During prosecution, the examiner did reject the claims originally under Section 101 — that was overcome however by amending the specification to limit “computer-readable medium” to only non-transitory storage. Of course, that strict line-drawing does not work for the flexible eligibility analysis applied in court.
Claim 8 of the ‘160 patent is listed down below and is treated as representative. The claim is directed to a device capable of sharing services with other devices. In walking through the two-step Alice framework, the Federal Circuit first noted the patentee admitted that the patents were directed to an abstract idea — that of “decentralized delivery controlled by the owner of a plurality of devices.” Yes indeed, the opening brief begins with the following statement: “Maxon’s claims are indeed directed to an abstract idea: decentralized service delivery controlled by the owner of a plurality of devices.” This is a strategy that I probably would have avoided — especially recognizing the strong correlation between the two Alice steps.
While is true that a claim directed to an abstract idea can still be patent eligible if they offer application of an inventive concept beyond the abstract idea itself, that did not work here for Maxon. Rather, both the district and appellate courts found “the claims merely recite generic computer elements for their basic functions and thus do not transform the claimed abstract idea into eligible subject matter under Alice.” Maxon had argued that the “ordered combination of the claimed elements” constituted an inventive step. The courts disagreed with that argument — holding that “[t]he only method of reaching the result the patent teaches is, in essence, use of generic computer components for their standard purposes to achieve the result.”
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Representative Claim 8:
An audio-video device capable of sharing services with a plurality of other devices within a personal network, the audio-video device comprising:
a computer-readable medium having storage for a first address corresponding to the audio-video device, a second address corresponding to the personal network, and a third address corresponding to a service provider network;
input/output logic configured to receive from a user a desired change to a service capable of being provisioned to the audio-video device from at least one service available generally to the personal network;
a processor in communication with the computer-readable medium and the input/output logic, the processor programmed to prepare an inbound signaling word comprising at least the first address and payload data representing the desired change to the service capable of being provisioned to the audio-video device from the personal network;
and a transceiver providing the inbound signaling word to the service provider network where the service provider network comprises logic to process the inbound signaling word including modifying stored information in a subscriber database to effect the desired change to the service capable of being provisioned to the audio-video device from the personal network,
the transceiver further receiving an outbound signaling word comprising the first address corresponding to the audio-video device and data indicating the desired change to the personal network, the outbound signaling word responsive to the desired change to the service capable of being provisioned to the audiovideo device from the personal network.