Order Granting Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Protegrity USA, Inc., et al. v. Netskope Inc., Case No. 15-cv-02515-YGR (Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers)

The NorCal IP Blog has extensively covered the increasing popularity of 35 U.S.C. §101 motions post-Alice, most recently here. In Protegrity, Judge Rogers continued the trend of increased judicial scrutiny of software patents in granting Netskope’s motion for judgment on the pleadings under FRCP 12(c). Judge Rogers granted the motion without the benefit of Markman proceedings or substantial discovery, just eight months after Protegrity filed its complaint.

Protegrity accused Netskope of infringing a single patent, U.S. Patent No. 7,305,707 (“the ’707 Patent”), entitled “Method for Intrusion Detection in a Database System.” The claims are directed to the use of intrusion detection policies to manage user access to a particular database. For example, a policy could be applied to limit the amount of information a user is permitted to access or download in a certain time frame. Claim 1 was found exemplary:

A method for detecting intrusion in a database, comprising:

defining at least one intrusion detection policy for the database;

associating each user with one of the defined policies;

receiving a database query from a user;

determining if the results of the query violate the intrusion detection policy;

and altering the user’s authorization if the intrusion detection policy has been violated.

Judge Rogers first addressed Protegrity’s argument that claim construction was required prior to the resolution of the motion. Because Protegrity had a co-pending action in the District of Connecticut in the midst of claim construction, Protegrity Corporation et al. v. GazzangInc., Case No. 14-cv-00825, Netskope stipulated to the adoption of Protegrity’s proposed claim construction’s in Gazzang for the sole purpose of resolving this motion. At the hearing on the Section 101 motion, Protegrity, for the first time, identified additional terms requiring construction. Protegrity argued that additional terms required construction than identified in Gazzang because that case did not involve a Section 101 motion.

Judge Rogers took issue with Protegrity’s belated arguments, noting Protegrity’s “decision to spring these un-briefed issues on defendant and the Court at the hearing suggests gamesmanship” and was “a calculated attempt to prevent defendant from providing a fulsome response thereto.” Ultimately, Judge Rogers found, even if Protegrity’s additional constructions were adopted, the ’707 Patent is still invalid and “no other reasonable constructions save the claims from invalidity.”

Turning to the merits, Judge Rogers first addressed the threshold issue in a Section 101 inquiry and determined that the claims are directed to an abstract idea: “limiting access to information based on specified criteria.” Judge Rogers reasoned this abstract idea “has long been implemented by various individuals and organizations”:

[S]uch methods—absent the generic reference to a “database”—substantially predate modern computers, arising in contexts such as physical security and access policies regarding a variety of sensitive information housed in filing rooms or warehouses. Different individuals within an organization might have permission to “check out” a certain number or type of files, with attempts to exceed those limitations, or other suspicious activity, restricted.

Furthermore, the dependent claims were found to add further gloss on the types of access limitations that may be applied, but did nothing to alter the core abstract idea.

Judge Rogers then addressed whether the claims recite an inventive concept, and found that they merely recite general purpose computer components. Protegrity argued that the limitation of “item access rates,” found in dependent claims and construed for the motion as “defines the number of rows in the database that a user may access from an item (e.g. a column of a table) at one time or over a certain period of time,” added an inventive step above and beyond the abstract concept. Judge Rogers found that this limitation did not save the claims, because it is disclosed in the prior art identified in the ’707 Patent’s specification.

Rounding out the analysis, Judge Rogers also found that the claims failed the machine-or-transformation test, which can be an important “clue” in determining patent eligibility. The claims are not tied to a particular machine, because each step can be performed by a human or tracked with pen and paper. The claims also do not perform a transformation, because they merely dictate access to data with no tangible result.

Judge Rogers’s granting of judgment on the pleadings is another reminder from the Court that, with appropriate circumstances, it’s never too early in a case to challenge patent eligibility.