Patent Claims Survive Alice Challenge Despite Being Directed to an Abstract Idea: Cellwitch, Inc. v. Tile, Inc.

Patent claims directed to [a] “system for monitoring of location of items” have survived a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings arguing that the claims were patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 and the two-part Mayo/Alice patent-eligibility test. Cellwitch, Inc. v. Tile, Inc., (Case No. 4:19-cv-01315-JSW)(N.D. Cal. Nov. 21, 2019). If you are familiar with Tile – need help finding car keys, anyone? – then you know what the claims of U.S. Patent No. 8,872,655 were about. Indeed, the court found under part one of the Alice test that the claims were directed to the longstanding human practice, and abstract idea, of helping people find lost items.

You can distill this abstract idea from claim 1 of the ’655 patent:

A system for monitoring of location of items, comprising: a plurality of wireless devices, each of the plurality of wireless devices being associated with a monitored item;

a plurality of wireless communication terminals, each of the plurality of wireless communication terminals being associated with a respective user and associated with at least one respective associated wireless device of the plurality of wireless devices and configured to monitor the proximity of the at least one respective associated wireless device and to generate an alert when the proximity of at least one of the associated respective wireless devices from the associated wireless communication terminal meets or exceeds a proximity threshold to alert the respective user to the met or exceeded proximity threshold; and

a processing system that is in communication with the plurality of wireless communication terminals, the processing system comprising a database that collects and stores data related to the plurality of wireless devices and the plurality of wireless communication terminals,

wherein at least one buddy wireless communication terminal of the plurality of wireless communication terminals is further configured to monitor the proximity of at least one wireless device of the plurality of wireless devices associated with one of the other wireless communication terminals and to generate an alert when the proximity of at least one of the wireless devices associated with one of the other wireless communication terminals from the buddy wireless communication terminal meets or exceeds a proximity threshold to alert the user of the buddy wireless communication terminal to the met or exceeded proximity threshold.

When the court turned to part two of the Alice test, you might have thought that the defendant was in a good position to show that there was not “significantly more” than the abstract idea. As a thought experiment, imagine you have drafted the above claim and need to explain where is the technical improvement to computing technology that makes the claim patent-eligible.

But remember: at the pleadings stage, as here, the plaintiff simply has to plausibly plead that the claims recite an inventive technical improvement. Citing BASCOM Global Internet Services, Inc. v. ATT Mobility LLC (Fed. Cir. 2019), the court found that the plaintiff made sufficient allegations to survive a Rule 12 motion by alleging

“[u]pon information and belief, at the time of the ’655 Patent, there existed no solution that used a network of personal wireless communication terminals to monitor and notify a particular user to when an item was no longer within a set range of the user.” To support this allegation, Plaintiff also alleges that the examiner found that patentability resided in the fourth clause of claim one. Plaintiff later recites that claim in its complaint.

(Citations omitted.) The plaintiff also alleged that the “patent claimed a process that ‘address[ed] the moment of loss itself,’ and this process was not well-known, routine, [or] conventional.” This was enough to allege that claim 1 ordered “components . . . in a non-conventional manner,” and thus enough – where at this stage the plaintiff’s allegation must be accepted as true – to show an “inventive step” to survive the present Alice motion.

Editorial Thoughts

Surely other judges may have decided this case differently. That is, another judge may have found that there was no factual question that “addressing the moment of loss itself” is not a technical improvement.