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The “Abstract Idea” Under Alice

A federal judge recently invalidated a pair of digital file identification patents used to sue Amazon and Barnes & Noble, ruling they described nothing more than an abstract idea under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice Corp. decision.

U.S. District Judge Robinson granted Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s joint motion for invalidity in Cloud Satchel’s suits against the retailers. The patents described a way to transfer location information for documents, allowing mobile users to access a host of files without being limited by the memory on their device.

Judge Robinson held the patents essentially described the abstract idea of cataloging documents to aid retrieval efforts, a concept the defendants had called “as old as libraries themselves,” dating back two millennia.

Cloud Satchel launched its suits and said that while the patented ideas do facilitate the identification and retrieval of documents from storage, they do so in a specific way, with portable devices that have less memory than centralized databases.

But those limitations were not an “inventive concept” sufficient to transform that idea into patent-eligible subject matter. It was an inherent limitation to cataloging that the mobile devices would have less memory than the larger database, Judge Robinson said. Other restrictions, including using computers with processors and receivers, were also generic because they applied to virtually every portable computer.

Cloud Satchel commented, “We are hopeful the Federal Circuit will correct this overreaction, which if allowed to stand has the potential to significantly diminish the value of many existing patents – including Amazon’s own ‘One-Click’ technology — and dissuade the research and development efforts of companies both large and small.”

Futhermore, another federal judge also invalidated two content-on-demand technology patents asserted by OpenTV against Netflix saying they claimed nothing more than abstract ideas under the Alice Corp. decision, but refused to nix a third patent.

Judge Seeborg refused to strike down the third OpenTV patent because the patentability of the subject matter described in that patent was still in doubt. The patent describes a system for allowing advertisers to direct customized ads to individuals based on data gathered as to those individual’s specific interests and possible needs. Judge Seeborg found that it was unclear prior to claim construction if the patent describes abstract ideas or if it relates to a technological solution to a problem pertaining to interactive television.

“[T]he mere fact that generic computer processors and internet technology can now be used to implement the basic idea, with certain perceived greater advantages, does not give rise to a patentable method.”

“At least at this juncture in the case, the patent appears to be directed at providing a technological solution to a problem that arises in the computer and interactive television context,” Judge Seeborg said.

For more information, see Law360.

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