Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, SCT Docket No. 19-353 (Supreme Court 2019)
Before writing this post, I note that while in practice (2003-2007) I represented Trading Technologies and filed a number of infringement lawsuits asserting infringement of patents related to those at issue here. Although I no longer represent Trading Technologies, I continue to be bound by duties owed to a former client. – Dennis Crouch
The patented inventions at issue are used by professional stock-market traders buying and selling in a dynamic electronic marketplace. The patents generally relate to user interfaces (UIs) designed to improve accuracy and speed of offers and bids while also dynamically displaying market-depth (pending offers/bids at higher/lower prices). U.S. Patents 7,904,374, 7,212,999, and 7,533,056. These inventions do not make the computer itself run faster or improve the computer’s internal processing or signalling. Rather, the improvement is seated in user interaction. In its decision, the Federal Circuit characterized the improvement as “focused on improving the trader, not the functioning of the computer.” And, according to the court, such improvements were effectively non-technological abstract ideas. “We conclude that the claims are directed to the abstract idea of graphing bids and offers to assist a trader to make an order.”
In its petition for writ of certiorari, Trading Technologies challenges the Federal Circuit’s conclusion that an inventive concept cannot lie in the improved user-functionality and also directly challenges the Supreme Court’s Alice Corp. decision and its progeny. (Note that on the first-point, the Federal Circuit has an inconsistent set of opinions).
In Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, 573 U.S. 208 (2014), the Court declined once again to define the scope of the “abstract idea” exception to patent eligibility created by this Court. It did, however, assume that claims that “purport to improve the functioning of the computer itself” would be patent eligible. Here, a panel of the Federal Circuit held, in conflict with other panel decisions, that computer-implemented inventions providing useful functionality to users, but without improving the basic functions of the computer itself in a manner akin to improved hardware, are directed to abstract ideas and therefore patent ineligible.
Accordingly, the questions presented are:
1. Whether computer-implemented inventions that provide useful user functionality but do not improve the basic functions of the computer itself are categorically ineligible for patent protection.
2. Whether the Court should overrule its precedents recognizing the “abstract idea” exception to patent eligibility under the Patent Act of 1952.
Trading Technologies Petition. On question two – it is important to note that the Supreme Court has identified eligibility as a question of statutory interpretation — but has not directly confronted whether the Patent Act of 1952 rejected or modified the abstract idea test.