Claims Reciting Mental Steps Are Not Patent-Eligible, Says Federal Circuit

In an opinion authored by Judge Chen (joined by Judges Lourie and Moore), the Federal Circuit held claims of three patents to be patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because “they are directed to the abstract idea of translating a functional description of a logic circuit into a hardware component description of the logic circuit.”  The court therefore affirmed the district court’s summary judgment of invalidity of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,530,841; 5,680,318; and 5,748,488.

Here is claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 5,530,841, considered by the court as a representative claim:

A method for converting a hardware independent user description of a logic circuit, that includes flow control statements including an IF statement and a GOTO statement, and directive statements that define levels of logic signals, into logic circuit hardware components comprising:

converting the flow control statements and directive statements in the user description for a logic signal Q into an assignment condition AL(Q) for an asynchronous load function AL( ) and an assignment condition AD(Q) for an asynchronous data function AD( ); and

generating a level sensitive latch when both said assignment condition AL(Q) and said assignment condition AD(Q) are non-constant;

wherein said assignment condition AD(Q) is a signal on a data input line of said flow through latch;

said assignment condition AL(Q) is a signal on a latch gate line of said flow through latch; and

an output signal of said flow through latch is said logic signal Q.

And now, here are the salient points from the court’s opinion:
 
  • The key concepts in the claims – using hardware description languages (HDLs) – could not help with patent-eligibility because they were known in the prior art.
  • The claimed “method of using assignment conditions to translate from a functional description of a level sensitive latch into a hardware component description of that same latch” could easily be performed with a pencil and paper; like the claims in Bilski and Alice, the claims here did not require a computer.
  • There was no technical solution (significant additional innovation) to save these claims: the claims “merely aided in mental translation as opposed to computer efficiency.”
  • The author of this opinion, Judge Chen, also authored what was, until Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp. and BASCOM Global Internet Services, Inc. v. ATT Mobility LLC (also authored by Judge Chen), the sole hope of software patents everywhere, DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P.  Once again, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from Section 101 jurisprudence: it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.