Federal Circuit Partially Overturns Invalidation of 4 Software Patents Under §101
Inventor Sholem Weisner sued Google LLC for patent infringement of four patents (10,380,202, 10,642,910, 10,394,905 and 10,642,911) in the District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2020. Weisner’s patents all shared the same specification which generally described ways to “digitally record a person’s physical activities and ways to use this digital record.” Google enjoyed an early win when the District Court granted summary judgment finding all claims ineligible under §101. However, on October 13, 2022, the Federal Circuit partially reversed the District Court, specifically finding that the ‘905 and ‘911 patent claims should not have been dismissed for patent ineligibility at this stage. Weisner v. Google LLC, 2021-2228 (Fed. Cir. 2022).
The Federal Circuit found that the District Court correctly dismissed the ‘202 and ‘910 patents for patent ineligibility. The claims in question were directed to the abstract idea of “collecting information on a user’s movements and location history and electronically recording that data.” Specifically, these claims were essentially about “creating a digital travel log”. Weisner argued that the system was an improvement on a computer because it automatically made these recordings and limited “what is recorded to only specific types of interactions that are pre-approved and agreed to by an individual member and a vendor member”. Neither the District Court nor the Federal Circuit found this line of argumentation compelling, noting that “humans have consistently kept records of a person’s location and travel in the form of travel logs, diaries, journals…” purely automating or digitizing a travel log is not sufficient to “bring the claims out of the realm of abstractness.”
With regard to the remaining ‘905 and ‘911 patents the Federal Circuit said, “at step one [of Alice] the district court erred by failing to separately analyze these patents.” While the district court analyzed the remaining patents on the same grounds as the ‘202 and ‘910 the Federal Circuit found that these patents were instead directed to “creating and using travel histories to improve computerized search results” (emphasis added). Specifically, the ‘905 and ‘911 patents recited “a method of enhancing digital search results for a business in a target geographic area using URLs of location histories.” The Federal Circuit still found this was an abstract idea, but much closer than the first two patents.
On Alice step 2 the Federal Circuit found that the ‘905 and ‘911 patents “recite a specific implementation of the abstract idea that purports to solve a problem unique to the internet and that, accordingly, these claims should not have been held ineligible under step two at this stage.” This finding was not based on any new structure or algorithm, in fact Weisner conceded “the patented system uses the same or similar algorithm used by existing search engines.” However, this alone did not “doom the claims”. The allowability was instead found based on “the claims specificity as to the mechanism through which they achieve improved search results”, which was done “through a ‘location relationship’ with a ‘reference individual’ for the ‘905 patent or through the ‘location history of the individual member’ … for the ‘911 patent.” Therefore, the claims recite “a new technique for prioritizing the results of the conventional search,” which in the context of the internet are sufficient to “add significantly more to the abstract idea of using travel histories to improve computerized search results.”
This case, like the Federal Circuits other recent §101 case Cooperative Entertainment v. Kollective Technology, shows that the Federal Circuit is willing to push back on District Court §101 invalidations, especially for software cases where such invalidations are common. Whether this is indicative of a larger trend on how the Federal Circuit views §101 going forward still remains to be seen.