Patent Claims to Weather Alerts Not Patent-Eligible Under Section 101

Case:  Zimmers v. Eaton Corp., No. 2:15-CV-2398) (S.D. Ohio August 2, 2016).

Result: Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings of invalidity under 35 U.S.C. § 101 granted.

Patent: U.S. Patent No. 9,015,256 (“Alert notification system”).  Claim 1, available in full at the foregoing link, recites “[a] system for providing a message to a plurality of locations on a geographic basis.”  The court summarized the claims as follows:

The patented systems "relate to providing emergency notification to multiple persons and/or geographic regions needed to be notified of pending emergencies or disasters such as a terrorist attack or severe weather incident." The invention is "primarily directed to delivery of warnings via telephone," but also uses "other communication devices . . . such as computer networks, pagers, or other devices."  The alert notification system utilizes computers connected via a network. The computers include a database server that stores in-formation and is used to assess alerts and deliver alert notifications. The computers evaluate notifications delivered by various organizations via a variety of communication mechanisms and interact with the database server to evaluate alert conditions and determine appropriate recipients of the alerts. The alert notifications may be delivered via telephone, facsimile, electronic mail, or other electronic communications. (Citations omitted.)

Abstract Idea (Alice Step 1): All claims of both patents “are drawn to the abstract idea of providing alert notifications to multiple persons.”  The court rejected “Plaintiffs attempt to distinguish many of the post-Alice cases from the Federal Circuit and district courts by characterizing them as "business methods" cases,” because “courts have found many claims drawn to an abstract idea even if they involve technological concepts.”

Inventive Concept (Alice Step 2): None: “Plaintiffs have failed to specify non-generic computer elements or additional, non-routine steps that transform the patent into an inventive concept that ‘overcome[s] a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks.’”  (Quoting DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245 (Fed. Cir. 2014)).

Takeaway: This is an unsurprising result in the post-Alice world.  Claims to alerting functionality can face stiff headwinds when challenged under Section 101, especially when not supported by a specification, or better, claim language, calling out technical improvements.

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