Finjan, Inc. v. Blue Coat Systems, Inc.

By Timothy Hirzel

February 9, 2018- In Finjan, Inc. v. Blue Coat Systems, Inc., 2016-2520 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 10, 2018), the Federal Circuit found that claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,154,844 (‘844 patent) were directed to patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 (“101”).  This opinion provides insight on how the first step of Alice’s two-step test is applied and provides an example of claims that are not “directed to” an abstract idea under Step 1 of the Alice test.

A jury found Blue Coat infringed the ‘844 patent owned by Finjan and the District Court held, as a matter of law, that the ‘844 patent was patent eligible under 101.  Blue Coat appealed the subject-matter eligibility decision under 101 to the Federal Circuit.

The ‘844 patent recites a system and method for providing computer security by attaching a security profile to a downloadable (i.e., an executable application program).  Representative claim 1 of the ‘844 patent reads:

  1. A method comprising:

receiving by an inspector a Downloadable;

generating by the inspector a first Downloadable security profile that identifies suspicious code in the received Downloadable; and

linking by the inspector the first Downloadable security profile to the Downloadable before a web server makes the Downloadable available to web clients.

The Federal Circuit applied Alice’s two-step test and reiterated that under Step 1, the court determines whether the claims at issue are “directed to” a patent-ineligible concept, such as an abstract idea.  If they are, the court proceeds to Step 2 and determines whether the additional elements of the claims transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.

Starting at Step 1, the Federal Circuit first examined the ‘844 patent’s “claimed advance” to determine whether the claims are directed to an abstract idea or whether the claims focus on a specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities.  During claim construction, the “identif[y] suspicious code” feature was construed to be only satisfied if the security profile includes “details about the suspicious code in the received downloadable such as ‘all potentially hostile or suspicious code operations that may be attempted by the Downloadable.’”  Importantly, the Federal Circuit further stated that “[t]he security profile must include the information about potentially hostile operations produced by a ‘behavior-based’ virus scan,” as opposed to “code-matching” virus scans.  The question under Step 1 then became whether this behavior-based virus scan in the ‘844 patent constitutes an improvement in computer functionality.

The Federal Circuit determined the behavior-based virus scan was in fact an improvement to computer functionality.  Behavior-based scans are not limited to recognizing the presence of previously-identified viruses like code-matching scans.  Accordingly, the behavior-based scans can be used to protect against previously unknown viruses as well as “obfuscated code” known virus that attempt to avoid detection by code-matching scans.  Moreover, the Federal Circuit found that claim 1 “employs a new kind of file that enables a computer security system to do things it could not do before.”  For example, the security profile approach allows administrators to tailor access for different users and ensures potential threats do not reach a user’s computer.

The Federal Circuit distinguished this case from Intellectual Ventures v. Symantec Corp., which held virus screening by itself constitutes an abstract idea, because the claimed method in the ‘844 patent “does a good deal more” than conventional approaches to virus screening.  The Federal Circuit also distinguished the ‘844 patent from other cases that have held a result, even an innovative result, is not itself patentable because the ‘844 claims recite more than just the desired result.  Instead, the claims recite specific steps to accomplish the desired results, such as generating a security profile that identifies suspicious code and linking it to a downloadable.

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit found the claims of the ‘844 patent not to be abstract and affirmed the District Court.  Because the claims were not abstract, the Federal Circuit found no need to proceed to Step 2 of Alice.

This opinion illustrates the importance to subject matter eligibility under 101 of tying the claims to the asserted technical advance.  In this case, the advance was a new type of file that enabled new capabilities in a computer that could not be performed before.  This opinion also shows that claims should be drafted to do more than simply recite the desired result of the invention, but actually, recite specific steps to accomplish that result.  This opinion further illustrates the importance of claim construction because even though the claims did not recite “behavior-based” virus scanning, this feature was read into the claims and became an important factor in determining whether the claims constituted an improvement to computers.  Rather than relying on a court’s hopefully beneficial claim construction, patent applicants should carefully draft claims to capture necessary features to illustrate the technical improvement or advance.

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Two-Way Media LTD v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, et al.

By William Gvoth

January 23, 2018 – In Two-Way Media LTD v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, et al., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 21706 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 1, 2017), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that claims of various patents owned by Two-Way Media LTD were directed to ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 (“101”).

This opinion provides insight into how claims may be construed and how this might impact an analysis of the claims under 101.

Four continuation patents were at issue: 5,778,187 (’187 patent), 5,983,005 (’005 patent), 6,434,622 (’622 patent), and 7,266,686 (’686 patent).  The patents relate generally to a system for streaming audio/visual data over a communications system like the Internet.  Claim 1 of the ’187 patent is representative of all the claims of the ’187 patent and the ’005 patent; claims 1 and 29 are representative of the ’622 patent; and claims 1, 22, 26, and 30 are representative of the ’686 patent.

As an example, and at a high level, claim 1 of the ’187 patent is generally directed to a method for:

  • Converting a plurality of streams of data into a plurality of streams of addressed digital packets;
  • Controlling the routing of the stream of packets in response to selection signals; and
  • Monitoring receptions of packets by the users and accumulating records.

The other representative claims are directed to similar methods or to systems with means plus function claiming similar to the previously described claim.

The common specification describes the invention as a scalable architecture for delivering real-time information (e.g., a distribution architecture integrated with a control architecture).  Embedded in the architecture is a control mechanism that provides for the management and administration of users who are to receive real-time information.  The specification also describes monitoring network conditions and generating records about real-time streams.

The Federal Circuit first analyzed the ’187 and ’005 patents.  Under Step 1 of the Alice test – the district court found that the claims of these patents are directed to the abstract idea of 1) sending information, 2) directing the sent information, 3) monitoring the receipt of the sent information, and 4) accumulating records about receipt of the sent information.  In analyzing this determination, the Federal Circuit stated that “claim 1 recites a method for routing information using result-based functional language…but does not describe how to achieve these results in a non-abstract way.”  Further, the Federal Circuit rejected proposed claim constructions, offered by Two-Way Media, that the claims are tied to the network architecture described in the specification.  In rejecting the proposed claim constructions, the Federal Circuit stated that the “constructions recite only conventional computer components.”

After affirming the analysis of the district court under step 1 of the Alice test, the Federal Circuit analyzed these claims under step 2 of the Alice test.  Under step 2, the district court “found no saving inventive concept” in the claims.  Although the district court acknowledged that the specification describes “a system architecture as a technical innovation,” the claim is not tied to the described architecture.  The Federal Circuit rejected Two-Way Media’s assertions that the “claim solves various technical problems” because the claim recites generic functional language to solve these problems.  In addition, the Federal Circuit stated that the claim does not require anything other than conventional technology and that the claim merely recites a conventional ordering of steps.

After analyzing the ’187 and ’005 patents, the Federal Circuit analyzed the ’622 patent and ’686 patent under the Alice test.  For these patents, the district court concluded that the ’622 patent was directed to “the abstract idea of monitoring the delivery of real-time information to a user…and that the ’686 patent was directed to the abstract idea of measuring the delivery of the real-time information for commercial purposes.”  It is worth noting that the district court, in part, based its conclusion on the preamble of the claims at issue.  The Federal Circuit found no error in the district court citing the preamble in its review.  The Federal Circuit then concluded that the claims are “directed to monitoring the delivery of real-time information to user(s) or measuring such delivery for commercial purposes.”

Under step 2 of the Alice test, the Federal Circuit reviewed the district court’s finding that the claims of the ’622 and ’686 patents did not contain an inventive concept.  Similar to the claims discussed above, the Federal Circuit disagreed with the argument that the district court failed to account for the system architecture and failed to give weight the “nonconventional arrangement of components” of the system architecture.  The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court, stating that the claims do not include an inventive concept.  For example, the claims recite use of an “intermediate computer” and an “intermediate server.”  The Federal Circuit stated that these components are “conventional computer and network components operating according to their ordinary functions.”  Further, the Federal Circuit stated that the steps of the claims “are organized in a completely conventional way – data are first processed, sent, and once sent, information is recorded” and “fail to describe a ‘specific, discrete implementation of the abstract idea’ sufficient to qualify for eligibility under 101.”

One of the main takeaways from this opinion is that even though the specification of the patents at issue arguably recited a novel concept (e.g., a novel system architecture), the claims were not tied sufficiently to that novel concept.  This opinion highlights the importance of the relationship between the claims and the specification with regard to a 101 analysis.  It shows that it may be difficult to argue that broad terms used in the claims are tied to novel concepts described in the specification, unless those broad terms are explicitly, or very clearly, tied to the novel concepts.  For example, for purposes of a 101 analysis and with regard to this opinion, reciting generic devices in the claims, such as an “intermediate server” or an “intermediate computer,” may not sufficiently tie the claims to a novel system architecture described in the specification unless the specification or the claims describe the relationship between the terms and the novel concepts.

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Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. CQG, Inc.

By William Gvoth

November 16, 2017- Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. CQG, Inc. relates to abstract ideas under § 101.  In Trading Technologies, two patents were at issue: U.S. Patent Nos. 6,772,132 (’132) and 6,766,304 (’304) (referred to collectively as “patents”).  These patents shared a common specification and related to a method and a system for electronic trading of stocks, bonds, futures, options and similar products.  The patents describe a problem that arises when a trader attempts to enter an order at a particular price but misses the price because the market moved before the order was entered.  The patents describe implementations that reduce the time it takes for a trader to place a trade when electronically trading on an exchange and that improve the way information is displayed to the trader.  For example, the implementations display market depth, which moves visually up/down and left/right as the market for a product fluctuates.  In addition, the implementations described in the patents permit a user to place an order for a product via a click on a user interface.

Trading Technologies appealed, to the Federal Circuit, the decision of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (District Court), finding that the patents were directed to patent-eligible subject matter under the two step test from Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International (Alice), 573 U.S., 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014).  The Federal Circuit affirmed.

To analyze the patent eligibility of the patents, the Federal Circuit selected claim 1 of the ’304 patent as the representative claim.  At a high level, claim 1 of the ’304 patent was directed to “a method for displaying market information relating to and facilitating trading of a commodity being traded in an electronic exchange…on a graphical user interface” that comprised dynamically or statically displaying various information and submitting a trade based on a user selection of a portion of the user interface.

The Federal Circuit analyzed the District Court’s analysis of the representative claim under the two step test from Alice.  Under the first step, the Federal Circuit reviewed, and agreed with, the District Court’s findings that the patents solve problems of prior graphical user interface devices used for computerized trading.  Specifically, the Federal Circuit stated that “the patents describe a trading system in which a graphical user interface ‘display[s] the market depth of a commodity traded in a market” including various static and dynamic displays and this graphical user interface solves “‘problems of prior graphical user interface devices…relating to speed, accuracy and usability.’”  Further, the Federal Circuit referenced the District Court’s findings that “the challenged patents do not simply claim displaying information on a graphical user interface” but rather “require a specific, structured graphical user interface paired with a prescribed functionality directly related to the graphical user interface’s structure that is addressed to and resolves a specifically identified problem in the prior state of the art.”  Based on the reasons stated by the District Court, the Federal Circuit agreed that the patents presented patent-eligible subject matter.

The Federal Circuit then analyzed the District Court’s analysis of the representative claim under the second step of the test from Alice and concluded that the District Court correctly “determined that the challenged claims recite an ‘inventive concept.’”  The Federal Circuit agreed with the District Court’s identification of the feature of “the static price index as an inventive concept” that permits more efficient and accurate trade placement when using electronic trading systems.  In addition, Federal Circuit agreed with the District Court’s distinction of the trading system from a conventional computer or the Internet based in part on the idea that the trading system presents “specific technologic modifications to solve a problem or improve the functioning of a known system.”

One of the main takeaways from the Federal Circuit’s analysis is that the claimed graphical user interface addresses specific problems with prior art graphical user interfaces in electronic trading.  In other words, the claimed invention includes an improvement to the functioning of technology and steps that address a specific problem.  This decision highlights the importance of framing a problem solved by an invention in technical terms and then presenting claims that solve the problem.

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Practice Insights in the Wake of Sonix Technology Co., LTD., v. Publications International, LTD

By Kris Rhu

October 30, 2017-  In Sonix Technology Co., LTD., v. Publications International, LTD (Fed. Cir. Jan. 5, 2017), the Federal Circuit found that the term at issue in U.S. Patent No. 7,328,845, i.e. “visually negligible,” did not render the asserted claims indefinite under 35. U.S.C. § 112, second paragraph.

The decision provides insight into how terms of degree in claims are treated and how the specification can be useful in providing an objective baseline in interpreting such terms.

The ‘845 patent of Sonix is directed to using a graphical indicator (e.g. a matrix of small dots) to encode information on the surface of an object, and an optical device that can read the graphical indicator and output additional information.  An example application is a children’s book with icons, where if one scans an icon (e.g. a horse) with the optical device, the book will output a sound (e.g. pronunciation of “horse”).  The patent admits that encoding graphical indicators is not new (e.g. barcode on a book cover), but the invention is an improvement over conventional methods because it renders the graphical indicators “visually negligible.”

The district court granted summary judgment against Sonix finding the patent invalid as being indefinite.  Particularly, the district court found the term “visually negligible” in the claim as indefinite under 35. U.S.C. § 112, second paragraph because the term was “purely subjective” and because the claim language provides no guidance on its meaning.  The court also determined that the specification does not provide a person of ordinary skill in the art “with a meaning that is reasonably certain and defines objective boundaries” of the claim scope.

On appeal, Sonix argued that the requirements and examples in the specification would have allowed a skilled artisan to know the scope of the claimed invention with reasonable certainty and establish that the term depends on human perception, not opinion.  They argued that this was consistent throughout the initial examination and reexamination processes.  Publications argued that there is no objective standard to determine whether something is “visually negligible” because it depends on the vagaries of a person’s opinion.

The Federal Circuit agreed with Sonix and reversed the district court, citing Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Applera Corp., 599 F. 3d 1325, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2010), where the court found that the clause “not interfering substantially” did not render a claim indefinite because the intrinsic evidence provided examples for non-interfering structures and criteria for their selection.  Thus, sufficient guidance was given to allow a skilled artisan to compare a potentially infringing product with examples from the specification to determine whether interference is “substantial.”

The court also cited Datamize, LLC v. Plumtree Software, Inc., 417 F. 3d 1342, 1348-1349 (Fed. Cir. 2005), where the court found the term “aesthetically pleasing,” with respect to a look and feel for interface screens, indefinite because the specification provided no guidance to a person making aesthetic choices.  Without any guidance, a determination of whether something is “aesthetically pleasing” was completely dependent on a person’s subjective opinion.

The court further cited Interval Licensing, LLC v. AOL, Inc., 766 F .3d, 1364, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2014), where the court found displaying content “in an unobtrusive manner that does not distract a user” indefinite because the single example in the specification without more information leaves the skilled artisan to wonder what other forms of display are unobtrusive and non-distracting.  This leaves the skilled artisan to consult the “unpredictable vagaries of any one person’s opinion.”

Here, the Federal Circuit found that the term “visually negligible” does not depend on a person’s taste or opinion, but rather depends on whether something can be seen by the normal human eye.  The court found that this provides an “objective baseline” to interpret the claim, and thus, is not “purely subjective” even though it may be a term of degree.  When turning to the specification to determine whether there is some standard for measuring visual negligibility, the court found that the specification 1) has a general exemplary design for a visually-negligible indicator, 2) states “requirements for the graphical indicators [to be] negligible to human eyes”, and 3) contains two specific examples of visually negligible indicators.  Thus, the court found the existence of examples in the specification distinguishes this case from Datamize, and the existence of an additional example and specific requirements distinguishes the case from Interval Licensing.  The court also found the level of detail in the specification to be closer to that provided in Enzo because it provided guidance on how to create visually negligible indicators and specific examples that provide points of comparison for the result.  Further, the court found that Publications had not provided evidence that human perception varies so significantly that reliance on it as a standard renders the claim indefinite, noting that no one involved in the first or second reexamination had any difficulty in determining the scope of the term “visually negligible.”

The Federal Circuit made one final point about how their holding in this case does not necessarily mean that “the existence of examples in the written description will always render a claim definite, or that listing requirements always provide sufficient certainty.”  The court indicated that they simply held that “visually negligible” is not purely a subjective term and that the written description and prosecution history provided sufficient support to inform with reasonable certainty those skilled in the art of the scope of the invention.

Going forward, the decision provides some instruction regarding potential patent drafting strategies with regard to terms of degree.  For example, the decision highlights the importance of providing sufficient requirements and examples in the written description so that sufficient guidance is provided to those skilled in the art for interpreting such terms.

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