In a previous post, several recent decisions of the Federal Circuit pertaining to post-Alice patent eligibility issues in the computer and software arts were discussed, including how the entirety of a patent specification is given weight in the court’s analysis in ways seldom seen before. Shortly afterwards, the Federal Circuit issued another patent eligibility decision. Electric Power Group, LLC, No. 2015-1778, Aug 1, 2016.
According to the Federal Circuit, the claims in Electric Power Group are directed to systems and methods for performing real-time performance monitoring of an electric power grid by collecting data from multiple data sources, analyzing the data, and displaying the results. In its analysis of patent eligibility, the Federal Circuit again thrust the specification into the spotlight.
First, the court observed that the patent specification describes a problem-solution approach, where “the problem is [a] need to monitor and analyze data from multiple distinct parts of a power grid.” The court noted that instead of providing a specific solution to the problem, the claims purport to monopolize every potential solution – i.e., “any way of effectively monitoring multiple sources on a power grid.” The court was concerned that the claims would “inhibit innovation by prohibiting other inventors from developing their own solutions to the problem without first licensing the abstract idea.” The court reached that conclusion because, based on the disclosure in the specification, nothing in the claims required “anything other than off-the-shelf, conventional computer, network, and display technology for gathering, sending, and presenting the desired information.”
Second, the court reviewed the patent’s specification to distinguish from its prior decisions in Enfish, DDR, and BASCOM. Specifically, the court explained that the Enfish claims “focused not on asserted advances in uses to which existing computer capabilities could be put, but on a specific improvement—a particular database technique—in how computers could carry out one of their basic functions of storage and retrieval of data.” The court noted that the Electric Power Group claims, in contrast, focus “not on such an improvement in computers as tools, but on certain independently abstract ideas that use computers as tools.” The court concluded, in its comparative analysis of the prior decisions, that the Electric Power Group claims also “do not require an arguably inventive device or technique for displaying information” as in DDR, nor do they require an “arguably inventive distribution of functionality within a network,” as in BASCOM.
Given the Federal Circuit’s persistent focus on the patent specification, patent applicants should consider styling their specifications in terms more likely to survive a patent-eligibility challenge. In view of Electric Power Group, technical advances described using problem-solution approaches are helpfully explained in terms of specific technical advantages over conventional approaches. With that specification support, claims directed to specific solutions, rather than all possible solutions, seem more likely to comport with the Federal Circuit’s current thinking.