“As she said these words her foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! she was up to her chin in salt water….'I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out.” Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

Applicants embarking on the journey of preparing and prosecuting a patent application can have a difficult time navigating the ever changing legal waters. One struggle is answering the question, “Are my claims patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101?” A recent decision from the Federal Circuit in Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A. provides some helpful waypoints. Case No. 2015-1778 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 1, 2016).

At issue was the eligibility of lengthy claims that focused on “collecting information [related to electric power grids], analyzing it, and displaying certain results of the collection and analysis.” Slip op. at 6[1]. The Federal Circuit used the two-stage framework from the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l. to analyze eligibility. Slip op. at 5. At the first-stage, the Federal Circuit agreed with the District Court’s assessment that these claims were directed to the abstract idea of “monitoring and analyzing data from disparate sources.” Id. at 5. “We need not define the outer limits of ‘abstract idea’ … to conclude that these claims focus on an abstract idea.” Id. at 6. Turning to the second-stage of the Alice framework, the Federal Circuit examined the claim elements to see if “they identify an ‘inventive concept’ in the application of the ineligible matter to which (by assumption at stage two) the claim is directed.” Id. (citations omitted). The Federal Circuit concluded that there was no inventive concept claimed and held that the claims were ineligible under § 101. Id. at 12.

In reaching its conclusion, the Federal Circuit provided commentary on what might have saved the claims at issue:

  • “The claims in this case do not even require a new source or type of information or new techniques for analyzing it.” Id. at 9 (emphasis added).
  • The claims “do not require an arguably inventive set of components or methods, such as measurement devices or techniques, that would generate new data.” Id. (emphasis added).
  • The claims “do not invoke any assertedly inventive programming.” Id. (emphasis added).
  • The claims at issue here do not require an arguably inventive device or technique for displaying information….” Slip op. at 10 (emphasis added).
  • “Nor do the claims here require an arguably inventive distribution of functionality within a network….” Id. (emphasis added).
  • The claims “do not include any requirement for performing the claimed functions … in real time by use of [unconventional, non-generic] technology.” Id. at 11 (emphasis added).

The quotations above likely indicate the types of elements that this Federal Circuit panel (Taranto, Bryson, and Stoll, JJ.) would consider to determine whether a claim is directed to a particular implementation of solving a problem (e.g., eligible subject matter) or to a desired functional result (e.g., ineligible abstract idea). Although the express categorization of a claim as an implementation or desired functional result was not dispositive, the Federal Circuit commented that this serves as a “helpful way of double-checking the application of the Supreme Court’s framework to particular claims.” Id. at 12 (emphasis added). Electric Power Group provides helpful tips for Applicants seeking to add buoyancy to the eligibility of their claims.

NOTES

  1. A wide-area real-time performance monitoring system for monitoring events on an interconnected electric power grid in real time over a wide area and automatically analyzing the events on the interconnected electric power grid, the system comprising:

a monitor computer including an interface for receiving a plurality of data streams, each of the data streams comprising sub-second, time stamped synchronized phasor measurements wherein the measurements in each stream are collected in real time at geographically distinct points over the wide area of the interconnected electric power grid, the wide area comprising at least two elements from among control areas, transmission companies, utilities, regional reliability coordinators, and reliability jurisdictions;

a plurality of interfaces to other power system data sources, the other power system data sources comprising at least one of transmission maps, power plant locations, EMS/SCADA systems; and

a plurality of interfaces to non-grid data sources,

wherein the monitor computer is configured to monitor metrics, the metrics comprising at least one of reliability metrics, power grid operations metrics, generation metrics, transmission metrics, suppliers metrics, grid infrastructure security metrics, and market metrics over the wide area of the interconnected electric power grid,

wherein the monitor computer is configured to detect the events in real-time from the plurality of data streams from the wide area,

wherein the monitor computer is configured to execute event detection logic, the event detection logic being configured to detect and analyze an event based on at least one of limits, sensitivities and rates of change for one or more measurements from the data streams and dynamic stability metrics derived from analysis of the measurements from the data streams including at least one of frequency instability, voltages, power flows, phase angles, damping, and oscillation modes, derived from the phasor measurements and the other power system data sources in which the metrics are indicative of events, grid stress, and/or grid instability, over the wide area,

wherein the monitor computer is configured to automatically present event analysis results and diagnoses of events via a graphical user interface coupled to the monitor computer for concurrently displaying the event analysis results and diagnoses of events and associated metrics from different categories of data and the derived metrics in visuals, tables, charts, or combinations thereof,

wherein the data comprises at least one of monitoring data, tracking data, historical data, prediction data, and summary data,

wherein the graphical user interface is configured to display concurrent visualization of the measurements from the data streams and the dynamic stability metrics directed to the wide area of the interconnected electric power grid,

wherein the monitor computer is configured to accumulate and to update the measurements from the data streams, the dynamic stability metrics, grid data, and non-grid data in real time as to wide area and local area portions of the interconnected electric power grid, and

wherein the monitor computer is configured to derive a composite indicator of reliability that is an indicator of power grid vulnerability and is derived from a combination of one or more real time measurements or computations of measurements from the data streams and the dynamic stability metrics covering the wide area as well as non-power grid data received from the non-grid data source.