Here is a Federal Circuit decision that expands the arsenal of cases available to argue for patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 and the Alice abstract idea test. In Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L. v. LG Electronics, Inc., Nos. 2016-2684, 2017-1922 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 25, 2018) (precedential), the court held that claims directed to software providing a particular arrangement of menu options for mobile devices are patent-eligible. The court’s decision affirmed the Eastern District of Texas’ denial of summary judgment of patent-ineligibility of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,713,476 and 8,434,020, each entitled “Computing Device with Improved User Interface for Applications.” Judge Moore wrote for a panel that also included Judges O’Malley and Wallach; the panel was unanimous on the question of patent-eligibility (Judge Wallach dissented with respect to a claim construction that affected the questions of anticipation and infringement).
The District Court had considered claim 1 of the ’476 patent as representative for purposes of patent-eligibility. That claim recites:
A computing device comprising a display screen, the computing device being configured to display on the screen a menu listing one or more applications, and additionally being configured to display on the screen an application summary that can be reached directly from the menu, wherein the application summary displays a limited list of data offered within the one or more applications, each of the data in the list being selectable to launch the respective application and enable the selected data to be seen within the respective application, and wherein the application summary is displayed while the one or more applications are in an un-launched state.
The patent-eligibility of this claim, the court found, was supported by three cases holding that “claims focused on various improvements of systems [are] directed to patent eligible subject matter under § 101.” These cases, each of which was previously discussed in this blog, are: Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., 822 F.3d 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (self-referential table in computer databased improved computer functionality); Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp., 867 F.3d 1253, 1262 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (improved computer memory system with “programmable operational characteristics” was patent eligible); Finjan, Inc. v. Blue Coat Systems, Inc., No. 2016-2520 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 10, 2018) (“behavior-based virus scanning method [is] directed to patent eligible subject matter”).
Applying its precedent, the court found that the patent claims presently at issue “are directed to an improved user interface for computing devices, not to the abstract idea of an index.” These claims were directed not to the pre-existing “generic idea of summarizing information,” but rather encompassed “a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information in electronic devices.” The court pointed specifically to the recitation in claim 1 of the ’476 patent of “an application summary that can be reached directly from the menu” as reciting a “particular manner of summarizing” information. The court noted further recitations that limited how the claim’s summary window could be used. In short, “these claims recite a specific improvement over prior systems, resulting in an improved user interface for electronic devices.”
The court further pointed to support in the patent specification for finding that the claims recited an improvement to computing devices. The specification explained problems in scrolling and switching views in conventional mobile device interfaces. The specification also talked about improving device efficiency by its organization of menu information.
Of further note is that the court found that the claims patent-eligible under step one of the Alice test (abstract idea), and did not need to even consider the second prong (significant additional innovation).
Lessons for Practice
In my view, this is a significant patent-eligibility case, because it supports the proposition that claims reciting nothing more than a process for displaying or arranging data in a computer interface can be patent-eligible. Anecdotally, I can report that many patent examiners take the position that claims reciting “the mere display of data” are not patent-eligible. The Federal Circuit’s precedential decision in Core Wireless provides a solid basis for traversing Section 101 rejections of claims directed to computer displays, and more broadly supports the proposition that software can be patent-eligible even if claims recite no more than processing or arranging data.