A Federal Circuit panel had reversed a district court opinion that related to patent eligibility of computer-related claims. The details of the patent are related in my earlier post, but the salient issue is that the patent included method, system, and computer-readable media claims. The panel divided over the issue with Judges Linn and O’Malley reversing the district, while Judge Prost dissented. The court agreed to hear the case en banc.
Today, the 10 member en banc court overruled the panel decision and affirmed the district court. If you were looking for precedent, however, you will be disappointed. Here is the entire per curiam opinion:
Upon consideration en banc, a majority of the court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted method and computer-readable media claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
An equally divided court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted system claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under that statute.
In other words, a majority of the court holds that the method and computer-readable media claims are not patent eligible, but they can’t agree on the reasoning. The court divided 5-5, however, on the patent eligibility of the system claims. In such a case, an appellate court affirms the lower court; the tie goes to the runner so to speak.
After that brief opinion, however, an additional 120+ pages are allocated to concurring and dissenting opinions that apparently could not garner a majority.
Judges Lourie, Dyk, Prost, Reyna, and Wallach
Judges Lourie, Dyk, Prost, Reyna, and Wallach filed a concurring opinion where they laid out the analysis they would use for the claims at issue.
First, it must be determined whether the claims fit within one of the four statutory classes: process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter. Next, does the claim pose the risk of preemption of an abstract idea? The claim must include an inventive concept, a genuine human contribution.
In applying this analysis to the claims-at-issue, this group of 5 judges would hold that none of the claims are patent eligible.
Chief Judge Rader and Judges Linn, Moore, and O’Malley
Next, Chief Judge Rader and Judges Linn, Moore, and O’Malley filed an opinion concurring-in-part and dissenting-in-part. Chief Judge Rader and Judge Moore agree with the majority that the method and computer-readable media claims are not patent eligbile, while Judges Linn and O’Malley would find all of the claims to be patent eligible.
This opinion notes that the exceptions to patent eligibility are “laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.” In crafting these exceptions, the Supreme Court was concerned with the “monopolization of the basic tools of scientific and technological work” and impede innovation more than promote it.
The opinion notes that claims must be “meaningfully limited.” For computer-related claims, this means that the otherwise abstract idea must be performed in a “specific way” on the computer or be performed on a “specific computer.” The computer must perform a meaningful role in the performance of the invention. The court must be careful not to consider novelty, obviousness, or section 112 issues when determining patent eligibility.
Judge Moore filed an opinion dissenting-in-part that was joined by Chief Judge Rader and Judges Linn and O’Malley.
Judge Moore is very concerned that the exception to patent eligible subject matter is getting too large and that a very large number of currently valid patents may be implicated. She describes the court as “irretrievably fractured” over the issue of patent eligibility. The Supreme Court only seems to review cases where it is going to rule the claims to be patent ineligible. She seems to urge them to review this case and hold otherwise.
She is extremely critical of Judge Lourie’s opinion. She indicates that he strips away all known features from the claims in his search for an “inventive concept.” This is, of course, continuing the confusion between § 101 and §§ 102 and 103 of the Patent Act.
Judge Newman filed an opinion concurring-in-part and dissenting-in-part. Judge Newman is concerned over the added uncertainty to patentees now that patent eligibility seems to be a completely separate litigation issue. She decries the division over the issue on the court and that it will not provide any guidance to patent owners. She would hold all of the claims in this case to be patent eligible.
Judges Linn and O’Malley
Judges Linn and O’Malley filed a dissenting opinion. They note that no claim construction analysis was conducted in this case and it comes to the court on a grant of summary judgment of patent ineligibility. The defendant in the case has agreed to a much narrower construction of the claims than they have been given by the court. Based on the sparse record, they would hold all of the claims to be patent eligible.
Finally, Chief Judge Rader provided “additional reflections” where he reviews other patent eligibility cases with which he has been involved. He leaves us with a mantra to ponder:
When all else fails, consult the statute!