Judge Sorokin granted CarMax’s motion to dismiss, finding the asserted claims were directed to non-patentable subject matter. The patent -in-suit, U.S. 9,671,955, is directed to a “virtual phone” in which a processor, memory, wireless communications and power ports, a touch screen, and a software application permits the emulation of the features of a handheld device (such as a smart phone) on the touch screen. This would allow a smartphone to be emulated on a touchscreen in a vehicle, permitting hands-free operation while maintaining the features and familiarity of location of the features of the phone. CarMax challenged the claims via a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, asserting that the claims do not meet the eligibility standard set forth in the Supreme Court’s Alice Corp. decision. Applying the test for eligibility set forth in that case, Judge Sorokin first determined that the claims were directed to the idea of emulating the features of a smartphone or other handheld device on a different screen. As was done in many other cases looking at eligibility, Judge Sorokin looked to prior decisions to see if this concept is meaningfully distinguishable from other concepts found to be abstract – courts do not appear to have a concrete method for determining whether the claimed idea is abstract, and instead analogize to prior cases. He did note that the claims recited a number of “generic computer components” without identifying how they worked together to create the claimed virtual smart phone, leaving the patent claiming the idea of an emulated smart phone rather than an actual functioning embodiment – he found the claims to be “merely drawn to the aspect of emulation and to the concept of generating a virtual smart phone – an abstract idea – and not to any particular concrete implementation of that idea.”
Having determined that the claims were directed to an abstract idea, Judge Sorokin next looked for an “inventive concept” that would transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible application, noting that under existing case law, “more is required than well-understood, routine, conventional activity already engaged in by the scientific community.” Judge Sorokin found that the claims lacked any additional limitations that would ensure that they amounted to more than the ineligible concept itself. He stated that all of the claimed components were generically defined and conventional. Accordingly, he determined that the patent did no claim patent-eligible subject matter, and granted CarMax’s motion to dismiss.
While I am not suggesting that Judge Sorokin was or was not incorrect in this particular instance, the current Alice framework seems to be very subjective. The problem with this approach is that every patent claim can be stated in increasingly broad and abstract terms – Edison’s light bulb patent, for example, could be described as the abstract idea of running electricity through a resistive element so as to general light, and so described may not have been deemed patentable absent further, concrete limitations. Given that this first step of stating the concept or idea of the claims does not appear to have any objective framework, it becomes difficult to determine how a claim will be treated in any given litigation, and the validity of a given patent may well hinge on the particular judge and the persuasiveness of the respective parties’ attorneys rather than the actual content of the specification and claims. One way to potentially overcome this problem might be to rely on concrete components and describe clearly how the components interact, rather than focusing on the function of the device or result of the interaction of the components.
At the request of the parties, Judge Talwani reversed her prior decision and entered partial final judgment that U.S. Patent Nos. 7,212,850 and 7,907,996 are invalid for failing to claim patentable subject matter. By such order, CardioNet will be able to immediately appeal this finding.
Globys sued Sorriso, asserting that Sorriso’s Smart Suite infringes a pair of patents relating to computer-implemented digital invoicing. A review of the exemplary claims in the complaint suggests that the patents may have an Alice eligibility problem; claim 1 of U.S. 7,996,310, the first of the asserted patents, essentially recites a “computer-implemented method” comprising receiving billing information that includes a plurality of individual transactions; receiving selection of parameters for customizing an analysis of the billing information; analyzing the billing information using the parameters provided; and producing a report. The exemplary ”computing system” claim 1 of the second patent, a continuation of the ‘310 patent, includes no meaningful technical limitations, reciting an “analysis engine” and “user interface” as the sole components and describing the system in functional terms. The patent was filed in 2000 and issued in 2011, several years before the Supreme Court’s June 19, 2014 Alice decision on patent eligibility. While the second patent, U.S. 8,930,252, issued in January 2015, prosecution closed and a notice of allowance was sent in April 2014, again prior to the Alice decision.
Nike sued Puma for infringement of seven Nike patents covering shoes having knitted upper, and alleged that after it notified Puma about the patents prior to filing suit, Puma not only failed to cease making and selling the accused products, Puma also introduced new shoes to the market that infringed the patents. Puma moved to dismiss the claims with respect to two of the patents as directed to non-patentable subject matter, asserting that one was directed to the abstract idea of forming an outline pattern on a textile and does not disclose an inventive step towards achieving the outline pattern, and that the second is directed to the abstract idea of generating a visual pattern on a textile, which is nothing more than a non-patentable work of art. Judge Sorokin disagreed, finding that the claims, which were directed to tangible manufactured items (i.e., shoes) or to physical components thereof or methods of manufacturing the same, they passed muster under the first prong of the Mayo test as being directed to a statutorily provided category of patent-eligible subject matter. He further noted that, even if they did not, Puma had not met its burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that the claims lacked an inventive step that would meet the second prong of the Mayo test. Judge Sorokin also denied Puma’s motion to dismiss the willfulness charges, finding Puma’s suggestion that more must be pled than knowledge of the patent and continued infringement remained an open question (albeit one that other Massachusetts judges had found incorrect), but that Nike had sufficiently pled additional facts that would support a finding of willfulness.
Judge Gorton denied Oxford’s motion for a preliminary injunction on sales of Qiagen’s QFT-Plus one-tube option for the diagnosis of tuberculosis. According to the opinion, tuberculosis is detected in two ways – through skin tests or through in vitro blood test known as interferon gamma release assay (“IGRA”). Currently, Oxford and Qiagen offer the only IGRA’s available in the United States. Oxford’s test utilizes a single, standardized tube, while Qiagen’s test requires multiple specialized tubes. Qiagen’s next generation product contains a single tube option that Oxford believes would infringe its patents. Oxford sought to prevent the sale of the next generation product, scheduled for launch in October 2017, until after a trial on the infringement claims. The asserted claims have already survived an Alice-based motion to dismiss, as well as five different petitions, all rejected, for inter partes review on obviousness grounds, and at Markman, all claims were construed on Oxford’s favor.
In considering the preliminary injunction factors, Judge Gorton determined that the claims were likely to be directed to patentable subject matter, because they included non-naturally-occurring peptides. He found that Oxford was likely to succeed in proving the patents valid over the prior art because, although Qiagen could show that researchers were exploring the use of the specific peptide, this showed only that it was “obvious to try” which does not rise to a finding of obviousness. He also noted that Qiagen’s arguments to this effect had previously been rejected by the PTO in its denial of the inter partes petitions. Judge Gorton found that Oxford would also likely prevail on a written description challenge, as well as on infringement by the Qiagen product. He determined, however, that Oxford had not made a “clear showing” that substantial and immediate harm is likely in the absence of an injunction. This was due both to the delay between finding out in January that Qiagen was about to apply for FDA approval and its filing the motion for preliminary injunction in August and because Oxford had not shown that money damages would be insufficient – “evidence of potential lost sales alone does not demonstrate irreparable harm.” This factor also weighed heavily in the balance of hardship consideration, offsetting the hardships that Oxford, a one-product company, would face in allowing Qiagen to continue selling, and ultimately led to denial of the motion.