By Kenneth Hartmann, Associate
Many patent practitioners have likely found success in overcoming and/or avoiding 35 USC §101 rejections since the USPTO’s Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance was released last January. However, the Federal Circuit (“the court”) recently made it clear that continued attention and care should be given when drafting patent applications focused on payment systems and/or payment processing.
In Innovation Sciences, LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc. 2018-1495 (Fed. Cir. Jul. 2, 2019) (“Innovation Sciences v. Amazon”) the court determined that a claim to an “online method for a payment server to support online buying over the Internet” in U.S. Reissue Patent No. 46,140 (the ’140 patent) was ineligible under Step 2 of Alice. More specifically, the court agreed with the district court that the claim was directed to the abstract idea of “securely processing a credit card transaction with a payment server” and that the claim lacked an inventive step, stating that the transmission of credit card payment information through the completion of a purchase are the same as those used in a “conventional Internet transaction system having adequate credit card information security” as admitted in the specification of the ’140 patent.
While Innovation Sciences argued that a “wherein” clause indicating the process involved a switch from a server with less security to a server with more security, the court held that that claim is directed to the abstract idea of “switching.” The court further mentioned that the claim seeks to capture the broad concept of switching to a more secure server, rather than a “specific way of doing so.” For Step 1 of the Alice test, the court indicated that the claim may have avoided being directed to an abstract idea if the claim and/or specification had indicated a specific way of carrying out the switch from a less secure server to a more secure server.
Patent applications directed to payments or other financial related processes will likely continue to receive the highest level of scrutiny with respect to patent eligibility due to the Alice decision being based on a financial/business method patent application. The fact is, many of these patent applications and/or patents likely involve novel technical features, communications, and/or processes that were overlooked and/or not considered when the patent application was drafted. In Innovation Sciences v. Amazon, the court specifically referred to a lack of detail with respect to switching between a less secure server and a more secure server. In fact, the word “switched” is mentioned only ONCE in the specification and ONCE in a flowchart. It is no wonder that the court found Innovation Science’s arguments regarding the switch between servers to be futile.
The ’140 patent claims priority to a patent application filed back in April 2000. That was obviously a different era of patent preparation and prosecution. Today, patent practitioners should consider and outline the technical aspects of processes (especially business method processes) without taking for granted that one or more steps of the process are inventive, in and of, themselves. Clearly, the switch between servers, considered to be one step in the overall process for performing an online method for a payment server, involved its own processes and/or steps. How/when was the decision made to switch the servers? What parameters were used to select the new server? How were those parameters analyzed to make the selection? What types of communications (and/or how many) were needed to perform the switch? Again, it was a different era of drafting patent applications in 2000. However, if the patent application drafter was able to predict the future, those are just a few example questions that, if answered in the claim and/or specification, would have improved Innovation Sciences’ case for patent eligibility. Moreover, to have the best chances of success, patent drafters should continue to discuss the technical problems solved by these processes (and/or by the steps of the processes) and any corresponding technical benefits.