Abstract Idea of a Solution to a Problem Not Patentable

3 Oct 2016

Electric Power Group, LLC, v. Alstom S.A. (Docket No. 2015-1778, Fed. Cir. 2016) involves eligibility of certain claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,233,843; 8,060,259; 8,401,710 for a patent under 35 USC 101. The patents describe systems and methods for performing real-time performance of an electric power grid. Claim 12 of U.S. Patent No. 8,401,710 (the ‘710 patent) was considered to be representative of the asserted claims.

The current framework for determining patent eligibility under § 101 (Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l. (134 S. Ct. 2347, 2354 (2014)) involves two steps: (1) Determine if the claims are directed to patent-ineligible concepts, i.e., laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas and (2) if the claims are directed to patent-ineligible concepts, determine if there is anything above and beyond the patent-ineligible concepts that could transform the nature of the claims to patent-eligible claims.

In Electric Power Group, LLC, v. Alstom S.A. (Fed. Cir. 2016), the Federal Circuit determined that the asserted claims were drawn to an abstract idea. The following is a summary of the reasoning of the Federal Circuit, as applied to claim 12 of the '710 patent:

LabelStepReasoning
(a) receiving a plurality of data streams information is intangible; merely collecting information is an abstract idea
(b) receiving data from other power system data sources information is intangible; merely collecting information is an abstract idea
(c) receiving data from a plurality of non-grid data sources information is intangible; merely collecting information is an abstract idea
(d) detecting and analyzing events in real-time from the plurality of data streams performing steps people go through in their minds or mathematical algorithm; mental processes are abstract ideas
(e) displaying the event analysis results merely presenting results is an abstract idea
(f) displaying concurrent visualization of measurements merely presenting results is an abstract idea
(g) accumulating and updating the measurements from the data streams
(h) deriving a composite indicator of reliability performing steps people go through in their minds or mathematical algorithm; mental processes are abstract ideas

In Electric Power Group, LLC, v. Alstom S.A. (Fed. Cir. 2016), the Federal Circuit also found that the asserted claims do not contain anything above and beyond the abstract ideas that could remove the claims from the realm of patent-ineligible subject matter. In stage two of the Alice analysis, the Federal Circuit noted the following about the patents in suit:

  • Limiting claims drawn to an abstract idea to a particular technological environment, without more, is insufficient to transform the claims into patent-eligible claims.
  • Merely selecting information, by content or source, for collection, analysis, and display does not differentiate the process from mental processes, which are abstract ideas.
  • The claims do not require a new source or type of information or new techniques for analyzing the information.
  • The claims do not require an inventive set of components or methods, such as measurement devices or techniques, that would generate new data.
  • The claims do not invoke inventive programming.
  • The claims do not require any non-conventional, or even a non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces.
  • The claims do not require an arguably inventive distribution of functionality within a network.
  • The claims do not include any requirement for performing the claimed functions of gathering, analyzing, and displaying in real time by use of anything other than conventional, generic technology.

The district court noted that the main problem with the patents was that the patents were attempting to claim every possible solution to the problem of monitoring and analyzing data from multiple parts of a power grid rather than presenting some particular implementation. Both the district court and the Federal Circuit agreed that if a claim is directed to a patent-ineligible concept and if the claim is “so result-focused, so functional, as to effectively cover any solution to an identified problem,” the claim is likely not eligible for a patent under 35 USC 101. Although, as evidenced by the court’s analysis of the claims, the court did not rely only on a hunch to reach its decision that the asserted claims fail to meet the standard for patent eligibility under § 101.