September 23, 2016

Stripped of Excess Verbiage, Claim Directed to Streaming Out-of-Region Media to Cell Phones in an Abstract Idea

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC v. DirecTV, LLC, [2015-1845, 2015-1846, 2015-1847, 2015-1848] (September 23, 2016), the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Complaint for patent infringement for failure to state a claim, because U.S. Patent No. 7,970,379 was directed to an abstract idea.  The patent was directed to to streaming regional broadcast signals to cellular telephones located outside the region served by the regional broadcaster.

The Federal Circuit began with the “abstract idea” stage of the two-stage framework device by the Supreme Court to determine patentability under Section 101.  The “abstract idea” stage requires focus on the claimed advance over the prior art to determine if the “claim’s character as a whole” is directed to excluded subject matter.

The Federal Circuit said that the concept of providing out-of-region access to regional
broadcast content is an abstract idea, as that term is used in the section 101 context. It is a broad and familiar concept concerning information distribution that is untethered to any specific or concrete way of implementing it.  The Federal Circuit further noted that there is nothing in the claims directed to how to implement out-of-region broadcasting on a cellular telephone. Rather, the claims were drawn to the idea itself.

The Federal Circuit noted that the claims were limited to cellphones, but merely limiting the field of use of the abstract idea to a particular existing technological environment does not render the claims any less abstract.  The Federal Circuit further noted that the idea underlying the inventions in this case was akin to the ideas underlying the claims in several of this court’s recent cases.  Although the technology at issue differed from that involved in TLI and Ultramercial, the Federal Circuit found the analysis of the “abstract idea” step in those cases instructive, as the patent involves the conveyance and manipulation of information using wireless communication and computer technology.

The Federal Circuit distinguished DDR Holdings as requiring doing something to a web
page, not simply doing something on a web page.  The patent in suit was not directed to a technological problem, it claims the general concept of out-of-region delivery of
broadcast content through the use of conventional devices, without offering any technological means of effecting that concept.  The Federal Circuit also distinguished Enfish as related to an improvement to computer functionality itself, while the claims in the patent in suit were not directed to an improvement in cellular telephones but simply to the use of cellular telephones as tools in the aid of a process focused on an abstract idea.

As to the second stage of the analysis, the Federal Circuit found no “inventive concept” that transforms the abstract idea of out-of-region delivery of regional broadcasting into a patent-eligible application of that abstract idea. The Federal Circuit said that the claim simply recites the use of generic features of cellular telephones, such as a storage medium and a graphical user interface, as well as routine functions, such as transmitting and receiving signals, to implement the underlying idea, and that was not enough.