LinkedIn Corp. v. AVMarkets, Inc.

Addressing patent eligibility in a covered business method (CBM) patent review, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) concluded that the claims of the patent at issue did not include any significant meaningful limitations beyond an abstract idea. LinkedIn Corp. v. AVMarkets, Inc., CBM2013-00025 (PTAB, Nov. 10, 2014) (Tierney, APJ.).

The petitioner, LinkedIn, challenged the patent, which describes generating sales leads on the Internet through the creation of web pages, as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter under § 101.  The claims recite, among other things, receiving and listing data items (sales leads) as hyperlinks on a web page and, on activation of a hyperlink, generating a web page showing the data item in a title, URL, meta-tag or text of the generated web page.

Under Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, (IP Update, Vol. 17, No. 7), determining whether claims are directed to patent-eligible subject matter requires a two-story process determining whether the claims are directed to a patent-ineligible concept such as laws of nature, natural phenomena and, if they are, considering the claim elements individually and as an ordered combination to determine whether there are additional elements that transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.

The patent owner, AVMarkets, did not dispute the claims were directed to an abstract idea—namely, a product catalog—but, rather, asserted that the claims included meaningful limitations beyond the abstract idea.  AVMarkets presented evidence that the claimed invention required specially programmed web servers.  The Board, however, found that servers and desktop computers are effectively identical except in their external form factors, and thus the specific claim limitations merely required the use of a general-purpose computer.  The Board also found that the limitations directed to the generation of web pages upon activation of a hyperlink and including a title, metadata and text in a web page such that it would be indexed were all disclosed as being well known in the patent’s specification.  Consequently they were not meaningful limitations.

AVMarkets also argued that the claims did not preempt the abstract idea of creating a product catalog because others could provide product catalogs via the internet that differ from the claimed invention.  However, the Board explained that the fact that “claims could be written differently does not demonstrate that the limitations added to the abstract idea are meaningful” —the additional limitations here were routine steps and merely post-solution activity.  The Board found that the additional limitations relied on to narrow the claim to the application of an abstract idea were merely an attempt to limit the use of the abstract idea to a particular technological environment (e.g., a server on the internet), which is insufficient to render the claim patent eligible.

Practice Note:  A claim directed to an abstract idea requires meaningful limitations if the claim is to be considered patent-eligible, post-Alice