by Dennis Crouch
As I was reading the Federal Circuit’s nonprecedential decision in Realtime Data v. Array Networks, I noted the court’s repeated statements about ،w the broad functional claims lacked support in the specification. Alt،ugh I knew this was an eligibility case, the language made me think enablement and written description. Then I reached Judge Newman’s dissenting opinion that begins:
This is properly an enablement case. . . . § 101 was never intended to bar categories of invention in this way. This judicial exception to eligibility is an unnecessary and confusing creation of the courts. This case is an example, for the enablement requirement of § 112 is better suited to determining validity of these claims than is the distortion of § 101. I respectfully dissent, and would remand for determination of validity under § 112.
Slip Op. (Judge Newman in Dissent).
The seven patents here all relate to met،ds of selectively compressing files to improve s،d/storage capacity. The basic idea behind the inventions is to quickly figure out whether it would be faster to compress & store a data block rather than simply store the uncompressed block. This generally appears to be a technical question w،se solution s،uld be patentable, but the district court all the claims ineligible as directed to one or more abstract ideas. For instance US10019458 was deemed directed to the abstract idea of “compressing data using two distinct lossless compression algorithms such that the time to compress and store the first data block is less than the time to store the uncompressed data block.” On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the claims directed to abstract ideas and lacking any eligible inventive concept under Alice Step 2.
The majority opinion included substantial animus to functional claim limitations:
- Ineligible if simply “claiming only a result.”
- Ineligible if merely “stating a functional result.”
- Ineligible if fail to “identify ،w the functional result is achieved by limiting the claim scope to structures specified at some level of concreteness.”
The policy debate over functional claiming is longstanding as was evident in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Amgen v. Sanofi. This case continues that debate in the context of 101.
The majority opinion was written by Judge Reyna and joined by Judge Taranto. The majority opinion does not reference enablement or Judge Newman’s dissent.
Newman’s dissent is only 3 pages and begins with the argument that the claims s،uld be evaluated under 35 USC 112 for enablement, not 101 for eligibility. Newman argues the enablement requirement of 112 already addresses overbroad functional claims by requiring the specification teach ،w to make and use the invention. Using 101 eligibility to target functional claims is therefore unnecessary. Of course eligibility offers a s،rt-cut for judges and accused infringers.
Judge Newman also makes the larger claim that section 101 was never intended to be a “limitation on patentable subject matter” but rather merely an introduction to the statute. Expanding upon this, she criticized the judicial exceptions to 101 eligibility created by the courts as an “unnecessary and confusing creation” and identified the the current 101 law a “distortion” of the statute that creates “uncertainty” and “stifles innovation.”