By Joseph Herndon --
Last month, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted Defendant Amazon.com's Motion to Dismiss for Invalidity under 35 U.S.C. § 101 on the grounds that the two patents asserted by Plaintiff Appistry, Inc. cover ineligible subject matter.
This case concerns U.S. Patent Nos. 8,682,959 and 9,049,267, both of which are child patents of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,200,746 and 8,341,209. The '746 and '209 Patents have since been held to be invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 (Appistry I), and so the result here for the child patents is not all that surprising.
The '959 and '267 Patents have the same inventors, figures, and "Detailed Descriptions" as the '746 and '209 Patents. Generally, all four patents relate to using a hive of computing machines to process information. To do so, the claimed inventions use a system of a plurality of networked computers to process a plurality of processing jobs in a distributed manner enlisting "a request handler, a plurality of process handlers, and a plurality of task handlers."
Defendants Amazon.com filed a Motion to Dismiss for Invalidity under 35 U.S.C. § 101 on the grounds that the '959 and '267 patents asserted by Plaintiff Appistry, Inc. cover ineligible subject matter. The '959 and '267 contain a large number of claims (187 in total). Claim 1 of the '267 Patent is representative and reproduced below.
1. A system for processing information, the system comprising:
a plurality of networked computers for processing a plurality of processing jobs in a distributed manner, the plurality of networked computers comprising a request handler, a plurality of process handlers, and a plurality of task handlers, the process handlers being resident on a plurality of different networked computers, the task handlers being resident on a plurality of different networked computers, the processing jobs having a plurality of associated process 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 request handler configured to (1) receive a plurality of service requests for the processing jobs, (2) store state information for the processing jobs, and (3) communicate data relating to the processing jobs to a plurality of the process handlers;
the process handlers to which the data relating to the processing jobs were communicated being configured to (1) analyze the state information for the processing jobs to determine whether any processing tasks in the process flows remain to be performed based on the logic for the process flows, (2) in response to the state information analysis indicating that a processing task remains for the process flow of a processing job, identify a processing task to be performed for the process flow having the remaining processing task, and (3) in response to the state information analysis indicating that no processing tasks remain for the process flow of a processing job, determine that the processing job corresponding to the process flow with no remaining processing tasks has been completed; and
the task handlers configured to perform the identified processing tasks to generate a plurality of task results; and
wherein the request handler is further configured to store updated state information for the processing jobs, the updated stored state information being based on the task results.
The District Court followed the traditional two-step § 101 analysis, and first determined whether the claims at issue are directed to an abstract idea.
The Appistry I Court confronted claims virtually identical to those asserted here and found that they were directed to "the abstract idea of distributed processing akin to the military's command and control system." The District Court here adopted that finding for the claims in the '959 and '267 Patents.
There are differences between the claims in the '959 and '267 Patents and those in the earlier '209 and '746 Patents. However, the District Court found those differences to be minor. For example, the '959 and '267 Patents require that the "process handlers" and "task handlers" be resident on "different networked computers." However, the earlier '209 and '746 Patents require no such thing. The '959 and '267 Patents also differ in that they include the claim element "the processing jobs having a plurality of associated process flows, the process flows including . . . (2) logic configured to define a relationship between the processing tasks of the same process flow."
The Plaintiff contended that the claims here are not directed to abstract ideas, but instead to a new computer (or, more specifically, a more efficiently and reliably distributed configuration of multiple computers), resulting in better performance. While the District Court noted that the Federal Circuit has held 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," it is not necessarily directed to an abstract idea (DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245, 1257 (Fed. Cir. 2014)), the District Court disagreed with Plaintiff's contention.
It was clear, to the District Court, that the networked computers utilized in the '959 and '267 Patents are merely generic computers tasked with performing generic functions. In other words, the claims are not directed to solving a technological problem or to solve a challenge particular to a specific environment, nor do they contemplate some "new" type of computer.
The District Court then turned to the second step of the § 101 analysis to determine if the claims are nevertheless patentable because they contain an "inventive concept" sufficient to "transform the claimed abstract idea into a patent-eligible application."
Disregarding all well-understood, routine, conventional activities previously known to the industry, the District Court found that that whether viewed individually or as an ordered combination, the claims of the '959 and '267 Patents do not contain an inventive concept.
Because the claims do little more than task generic computers with generic functions, the claims simply provide for completing a task or process by distributing it downward via a hierarchical series of "handlers" located on generic computers spread throughout a generic network. The District Court found nothing inventive about that.
Despite the fact that the claims recite "novel" arrangements of computing devices that likely result in more efficient processing and better performance, it seems that because the parts of the sum are conventional (e.g., using generic computers), then the sum as a whole will be deemed uninventive. The patents here are quite detailed, and as some possible ammunition to combat such §101 attacks, it may be beneficial to build into the description actual examples of problems that the invention solves here that specifically arise in computer networks.
Appistry, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc. (W.D. Wash. 2016)
Order by District Judge Richard A. Jones