What exactly is the test for 101 eligibility? The Federal Circuit is still trying to figure that out.
In a 61 page opinion, a Fed. Cir. panel reversed invalidation of four patents on 101 grounds. These patents described a system that allows network providers to more easily bill for use of their networks. The system works by capturing network load information in a distributed manner, and this obviates the need for all network load information to flow through a specific point.
The decision was 2-1, and the central dispute was over the test for patent eligibility. Is there a single, articulated test for eligibility as the dissent urged? Or should these cases be taken on case-by-case basis and compared to all prior decisions to determine which they most closely resemble? The latter view prevailed.
Here the claims were eligible because the generic components operated in an unconventional manner, even though they were generic:
[The claims purposefully arrange] . . . the components in a distributed architecture to achieve a technological solution to a technological problem specific to computer networks.
Interestingly, the dissent focuses on the claims’ functional language and concludes that they therefore recite only abstract ideas:
Rather than reciting structure, claim 1 defines the program product using only functional limitations. Looking at those limitations, I find no specific process for accomplishing the abstract goal of combining data from two sources.
Functional claiming is rampant and insufficiently policed, but the remedy is application of means-plus-function limitations, not patent ineligibility.
These claims are probably eligible, and I particularly like the “technological solution to a technological problem” language that is being used more often. In any case, the fall out from Alice continues.