Processing All Things Federal Circuit
July 19, 2021 - Last Week in the Federal Circuit

Last Week in the Federal Circuit (July 12-16): Under Alice, Another Patent Bites The Dust

Last Week in the Federal Circuit (July 12-16): Under Alice, Another Patent Bites The Dust

Keniece Gray, Morrison & Foerster summer associate, co-authored this post. 

We could have a new Federal Circuit judge today (achieving gender parity on the Court). Last week, the Senate invoked cloture (by a 63-34 vote) on the nomination of Tiffany Cunningham to replace Judge Wallach, and the Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation this afternoon.

The current members of the Court were busy last week too, issuing a whopping 17 opinions. Below we provide our usual weekly statistics and our case of the week—our highly subjective selection based on whatever case piqued our interest.

Precedential opinions: 6

Non-precedential opinions: 11

Rule 36: 2

Longest pending case from argument: Level Sleep LLC v. Sleep Number Corp., No. 20-1718 (189 days)

Shortest pending case from argument (non-Rule 36): Nite Glow Industries Inc. v. Central Garden & Pet Co., No. 20-1897 (34 days)

Case of the week: Sensormatic Electronics, LLC v. Wyze Labs, Inc., No. 20-2320

Panel: Judges Newman, Lourie, and Dyk, with Judge Lourie writing the opinion

You should read this case if: you have a matter involving patent eligibility under Alice

Abstract idea or patent-eligible subject matter? The Court took on that question (again) last week.

In our case of the week, a company that helps retailers prevent theft, Sensormatic Electronics, LLC, asserted patent claims against home surveillance developer Wyze Labs, Inc. The patents at issue describe a surveillance system using wireless input devices. Wyze argued that the patent claims ineligible subject matter under § 101.

Per Alice, patent eligibility first requires determination of whether the claims are directed to a law of nature, natural phenomenon, or an abstract idea. If so, the next step is to determine whether claims include an “inventive concept” that does more than recite an ineligible idea “while adding the words ‘apply it.’” The Federal Circuit emphasized here that the substance behind the claims—not whether they are drafted as machine or system claims—determines whether the claims are non-abstract.

The district court held Sensormatic’s patent claims ineligible, and the Federal Circuit affirmed. The Federal Circuit concluded that the subject matter of Sensormatic’s asserted patents were ineligible for protection as “none of the claim limitations take the claims beyond those of abstract ideas” and the claims do not recite an inventive concept sufficient to transform them into patent-eligible subject matter.

At Alice step one, Sensormatic argued its claims are directed to three nonabstract improvements to currently available surveillance technologies: (1) a configuration of surveillance sensors, (2) “dual encoding” of input data, and (3) detection of surveillance “trigger events” to prioritize input data. But the Court held that all of these are abstract ideas. It explained: (1) Sensormatic identified no particular non-abstract configuration, (2) the concept of decoding is abstract, and (3) prioritizing input data by detecting trigger events is merely an aspect of the abstract ideas of remote surveillance and image classification and organization. 

At step two, Sensormatic argued that the claims apply a particular configuration of wireless input devices “that was unconventional and improved surveillance technology.” But the Court held that Sensormatic failed to set forth any particular physical configuration beyond the conventional application of generic devices.

Sensormatic also challenged the district court’s choice of a representative claim. But the Federal Circuit held that Sensormatic failed to identify any claim limitations that the district court failed to consider. The Court’s determination of patent ineligibility thus defeated all of Sensormatic’s asserted claims.