April 28, 2017

A Claim to an Abstract Idea does not Automatically Become Eligible Merely by Adding a Mathematical Formula

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In Recognicorp, LLC v. Nintendo Co., Ltd.[2016-1499](April 28, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings that U.S. Patent No. 8,005,303 on a method and apparatus for building a composite facial image using constituent parts was directed to the abstract idea of encoding and decoding image data.

At Alice step one, the district court concluded that the asserted claims are “directed to the abstract idea of encoding and decoding composite facial images using a mathematical formula.”  At Alice step two, the district court found that the ’303 patent contains no inventive concept, stating that “the entirety of the ’303 Patent consists of the encoding algorithm itself or purely conventional or obvious pre-solution activity and post-solution activity insufficient to transform the unpatentable abstract idea into a patent-eligible application.”

The Federal Circuit agreed that claim 1 is directed to the abstract idea of encoding and decoding image data, noting that it claims a method whereby a user displays images on a first display, assigns image codes to the images through an interface using a mathematical formula, and then reproduces the image based on the codes.  The Federal Circuit rejected the argument that, like the claims in Enfish, the claim was being parsed at too high a level of abtractions.  The Federal Circuit found Digitech Image Technologies more analogous.

At step two of the Alice inquiry, the Federal Circuit found that nothing “transforms” the abstract idea of encoding and decoding into patent-eligible subject matter.  The Federal Circuit said that claims that are directed to a nonabstract idea are not rendered abstract simply because they use a mathematical formula, but that the converse is also true: a claim directed to an abstract idea does not automatically become eligible merely by adding a mathematical formula.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the claims of the ’303 patent are directed to encoding and decoding image data — an abstract idea — adding that the claims provide no inventive concept to render them eligible under § 101.