Federal Circuit Finds More Computer Program Claims Patent-Eligible
In Amdocs (Israel) Limited v. Openet Telecom, Inc., No. 2015-1180 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 1, 2016), a panel of the Federal Circuit reviewed the patentability of several patents owned by Amdocs which covered a system for monitoring and logging activity on computer networks. The patented system would allow raw data collected from computer networks, called "accounting information," to be processed in parallel, improving over previous systems that had relied on central databases to process the data. The District Court applied the Alice v. CLS Bank test and found that all of the patents were invalid under 35 U.S.C. §101.
The Federal Circuit panel reversed the District Court and found all the claims of each of the four patents to be patentable. In its opinion, the Federal Circuit relied on reasoning by analogy to past Federal Circuit cases in order to determine whether the claims were patentable. It noted that the "decisional mechanism courts now apply is to examine earlier cases in which a similar or parallel descriptive nature can be seen." The court found that the subject matter of Amdocs' patents was similar to patents that the Federal Circuit had upheld as valid under §101 (like those in BASCOM and DDR Holdings), and distinguishable from patents that the Federal Circuit had struck down under §101 (like those in Digitech, Content Extraction, and In re TLI Communications). As such, the Federal Circuit likewise upheld these claims.
The Federal Circuit panel also relied on a "utility-focused approach" for determining patentability. Because the patents spelled out that the patented system had a "distributed architecture" that could "efficiently and accurately collect network usage information in a manner designed for efficiency to minimize impact on network and system resources," the court found that the claims had enough structure to pass §101, even though this material was only in the patent specifications, and the claims did not explicitly cover the "distributed architecture."
One of the Federal Circuit judges on the panel, Judge Reyna, dissented, arguing that this "utility-focused approach" was improper and that the claims must be analyzed on their own to determine whether they are patentable.