Federal Circuit narrowly reverses another 101 invalidation (Amdocs v. Openet Telecom)

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.

Third Circuit: Product hopping not per se illegal

“Product hopping” occurs when a drug maker creates a new version of their drug. The drug maker “hops” from one version (a 75mg tablet) to a new version (a 150mg tablet). The changes are not usually related to the efficacy of the drug. Perhaps the new version has to be taken less often.

But the hop can complicate generic substitutions. A generic (cheaper) drug must be shown bioequivalent to receive fast approval and allow pharmacists to make substitutions. The alleged goal of many product hops is to complicate the ability of generics to compete.

Does product hopping violate antitrust laws? Not without good evidence of monopoly power.

In a Sept. 28, 2016 decision the Third Circuit concluded there was insufficient evidence that the makers of Doryx acne medication had sufficient market power to support a claim for antitrust.

Takeaway: product hopping isn’t per se illegal and won’t necessarily be analyzed any differently from other alleged antitrust violations. Indeed the Third Circuit echoed concerns by the District Court that product hopping allegations could discourage routine innovation:

The prospect of costly and uncertain litigation every time a company reformulates a brand-name drug would likely increase costs and discourage manufacturers from seeking to improve existing drugs.