Claims Upheld Under Bilski in the E.D. Texas

A recent Eastern District of Texas decision found patentable subject matter in claims directed to determining Current Procedural Technology ("CPT") codes based on information gathered during a physician-patient encounter.   Prompt Medical Systems, L.P. v.  AllscriptsMisys Healthcare Solutions, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30694, No. 6:10-CV-71 (E.D. Texas Feb. 13, 2012).

Procedural Setting

Defendants brought a "motion for summary judgment on the basis of non-patentable subject matter."

Result

Motion denied.  The claims "involve the use of a computer and complex programming and are not drawn to purely mental processes," and therefore did not recite "an abstract idea."

Facts

The court described CPT codes, and the invention of U.S. Patent No.  5,483,443, as follows:

CPT codes are a system of codes developed by the American Medical Association ("AMA") in conjunction with the Health Care Financing Administration. They provide a uniform language to describe a physician's work, which facilitates patient billing for medical and surgical procedures, diagnostic tests, laboratory studies, and other medical services rendered.

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The invention allows a CPT code to be calculated based on the documentation process that occurs during the physician--patient encounter. During the encounter, the computer prompts the physician with lists from which the physician chooses particular descriptions that best characterize the patient's status. When the physician enters his or her choices, the computer compares the selected choices to criteria for determining the component codes and ultimately the final CPT code.

The representative claims of the '443 patent considered by the court are reproduced at the end of this post.

Analysis

Interestingly in light of the Federal Circuit's disagreement, in MySpace, Inc. v. Graphon Corp., about whether Section 101 presents a threshold test of patent validity, Judge Davis, writing prior to the MySpace decision, stated that "[w]hether an invention is patent-eligible under § 101 is merely a threshold question."  Moreover, although the parties had heavily briefed the machine-or-transformation test, the court noted that the patentability inquiry would not end with this analysis.

Regarding the machine-or-transformation test, the mere use of a general computer in the claims would not render the claims patentable as a machine.  Nor did the claims recite a transformation, inasmuch as CPT codes, though transformed in the claims, are not "physical and tangible objects."

The court then turned to whether the claims recited an abstract idea.  According to Judge Davis, the claims did not cover any generation and use of CPT codes, but instead recited specific categories of use.  The fact that the claims did not recite a specific algorithm did not render the claims patent ineligible in light of their overall specificity. Judge Davis distinguished the '443 patent claims from the claim in Parker v. Flook, where providing an alert when a temperature threshold was breached was held patent-ineligible.  According to the court, the '443 patent claims were for an improved process, and not merely an improved method of calculation, as in Flook.  After summarizing the Federal Circuit decisions in Ultramercial, LLC v. Hulu, LLC, 657 F.3d 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2011), and Cybersource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc., 654 F.3d 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (each summarized at The SWIP Report's Patentability page), the court concluded that:

The claims are also subject to meaningful limits. They relate specifically to a physician-patient encounter and involve the determination of a specific type of medical procedure code that is published by the AMA. Though the claims do not satisfy the machine-or-transformation test, they are still subject to meaningful limitations of their scope. Accordingly, the '443 patent claims are not drawn to an abstract idea. They survive the § 101 threshold inquiry and are for patentable-subject matter.

A complete summary of Section 101 cases following Bilski v. Kappos can be found at The SWIP Report's Patentability page.

Claims

(Return to Facts.) The representative claims of the '443 patent recited as follows:

Claim 1. A process for generation of Current Procedural Terminology ("CPT") codes comprising:

storing historical data in a memory;

comparing the historical data to a set of historical criteria to define a history code;

storing an examination data in a memory;

comparing the examination data to a set of examination criteria to define an examination code;

storing medical decision making data in a memory;comparing the medical decision making data to a set of medical decision making criteria to define a medical decision making code;

comparing the historical code, the examination code, and the medical decision making code to a set of final criteria to define a final CPT code; and

displaying the final CPT code.

Claim 5. A process for computing Current Procedural Terminology ("CPT") codes from documentation generated by a medical professional, said process comprising:

displaying a set of queries to the medical professional;

receiving input from the medical professional in response to said queries;

computing a component historical code based on said input and a set of stored historical criteria;

computing a component examination code based on said input and a set of stored examination criteria;

computing a component medical decision code based on said input and a set of stored medical decision criteria;

computing a final CPT code based on said historical code, said examination code and said medical decision code and a set of stored patient encounter criteria.