Claims drawn to “enterprise network” monitoring and analysis are patent-eligible, according to Delaware's Judge Sue Robinson, who denied the defendant’s motion for Summary Judgment of invalidity under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in SRI International Inc. v. Cisco Systems Inc., No. 1:2013cv01534 (D. Del. April 11, 2016). Some people – including many patent examiners – will tell you that a claim cannot be patent-eligible where it recites monitoring and analyzing, i.e., merely "processing," data without any physical structure. Judge Robinson disagreed. Whether she was right or wrong, this decision is yet another example of today’s highly subjective Section 101 jurisprudence.
Claims of the two patents-in-suit, U.S. Patent Nos. 6,711,615 and 6,484,203, are directed to monitoring network activity, detecting suspicious activity, and then, in the words of one claim, receiving the information about suspicious activity by “monitors adapted to automatically receive and integrate the reports of suspicious activity.” Cisco, the defendant, alleged that the claims were directed to “the abstract idea ‘of monitoring and analyzing data from multiple sources to detect broader patterns of suspicious activity,’ which is ‘a fundamental building block of intelligence gathering and network security.’” It was probative, Cisco said, that the claims could be manually carried out by a person. SRI, the plaintiff, disagreed, saying computers were necessary.
The court, in considering whether the claims were drawn to an abstract idea, said that the fact that Cisco could “simplify the invention enough to find a human counterpart” was not enough “to make the concept abstract.” Judge Robinson cited that bellwether of many a court's patent-eligibility finding, DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.Com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245 (Fed. Cir. 2014), for the proposition that the claims of the ’615 and ’203 patents were “necessarily rooted in computer technology.”
Despite having found the claims not directed to an abstract idea, Judge Robinson nonetheless went on to the second step of the two-part Alice/Mayo test. She found that, in light of explanation in the Specification concerning how the claims selected packets for analysis, “[t]he claims as an ordered combination (in light of the specification) sufficiently delineate ‘how’ the method is performed to ‘improve the functioning of the computer itself,’ thereby providing an inventive concept.”
There are two takeaways, such as they are. First, many patent examiners, reviewing these claims today, would reject them under Section 101. Second, this case would have gone the other way in many other district courts.