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Alice strikes again: Amazon gets Appistry’s Patents Ruled Invalid

Source: Grill IP patents news

Appistry-patents-invalidThe crackdown in US courts on software and process patents that try to secure intellectual property rights on very common ideas and concepts continues. The Western District Court of Washington recently agreed with Amazon.com’s demand that an IP infringement case brought against the retailer should be dismissed, because the patents underpinning the claim are invalid according. The Court found that the patents asserted by the plaintiff, Appistry, Inc. concern ineligible content, in line with 35 U.S.C. § 101. In this case, Appistry’s U.S. Patents Nos. 8,682,959 and 9,049,267, the child patents of Nos. 8,200,746 and 8,341,209 were under scrutiny. These parent patents have since been held invalid in Appistry I.

The Case

The plaintiff, Appistry, is a software company based in Missouri, which asserts that Amazon.com infringed upon its patents relating to information processing via a hive of computing machines. Specifically, patents ‘959 and ‘267 involve inventions utilizing a variety of computers to process processing jobs in a dispersed manner through “a request handler, a plurality of processing handlers, and a plurality of task handlers. Amazon responded to the suit by filing a motion to dismiss for invalidity under 35 U.S.C. § 101, arguing that Appistry’s patents cover ineligible subject matter. Over 180 claims exist between the two patents, but claim 1 of ‘267 is quite representative of the bunch, containing:

“processing jobs having a plurality of associated processing flows, the process flows including (1) a plurality of processing tasks and (2) logic configured to define a relationship between the processing tasks of the same process flow.”

The Court undertook a two-step analysis to determine whether Appistry’s claims centre on ineligible content, first looking at whether they are directed to an abstract idea. In Appistry I, the Court dealt with claims resembling those in this case, ultimately determining that they were focused on “the abstract idea of distributed processing akin to the military’s command and control system.”  Since the Court views the differences between these claims and those in Appistry I as negligible, this interpretation was adopted to assert the abstractions of ‘959 and ‘267.

    The plaintiff responded by arguing that its claims were not directed to abstract concepts, but rather to new computational systems that perform more efficiently and reliably than past systems. Indeed, there is a case to be made for Appistry, with the District Court noting the Federal Circuit’s 2014 decision in DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., which determined that where a “claimed solution is necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks” then it does not necessarily relate to an abstract concept.

    Despite this, the District Court disagreed with the plaintiff’s contention. According to the Court, the networked computers described by ‘959 and ‘267 are merely generic systems tasked with generic functions. These claims are not directed to solving challenges in specific environments, or technological issues, nor do they contemplate any “new” type of computer, and are thus within the realm of the abstract.

    The second step of the Court’s § 101 examination involved deciding whether these claims are still patentable according to their inclusion of an “inventive concept” sufficient to “transform the claimed abstract idea into a patent-eligible application.” Once again, the mundane nature of the claims, tasking computers with generic functions, providing for the completion of a process by distributing it downward via a hierarchical series of “handlers” located in a computational network, lacks an inventive aspect in the eyes of the Court.

    While the claims do involve “novel” computing arrangements that result in efficient processing, it appears that since each individual aspect of the claims are conventional (i.e. generic computers), then the sum of the patents will be deemed uninventive.  

Moving Forward

    As Appistry’s ‘959 and ‘267 patents have the same figures, inventors, and “detailed descriptions” as their invalidated parent patents, this recent ruling in favor of Amazon is pretty unsurprising. While these patents were filled with detail, they lacked examples of applications of such innovations. For those facing charges of ineligibility under § 101, an incorporation of examples of problems that the invention solves would serve to shift away from categorizations of said invention as “commonplace” or “uninventive.”

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