A California federal judge invalidated four out of eight technology patents that Hewlett-Packard accused a competitor of infringing.

HP claimed that at least seven ServiceNow Inc. products violated the HP patents, and that ServiceNow had also induced others to infringe.

The judge granted a motion for summary judgment by ServiceNow, finding that the four patents were too abstract to merit patent protection.

One invalidated HP patent involved a system to monitor IT service tickets and provide reminders when a deadline was approaching. The judge ruled that this simply described the abstract idea of providing reminders for approaching deadlines.

Another HP patent covered a method for displaying information in a hierarchical format. The judge ruled that this described merely the abstract idea of categorizing and organizing information.

The judge rejected HP’s claims that at least two of its patents should be found valid because they described improvements over previous industry practices. The judge noted that just because an invention was novel that did not necessarily make it patent-eligible.

Self-Driving Cars

The judge used the example of a self-driving car:

A self-driving car might be very successful commercially. It might be novel and — it’s implementation, at least — nonobvious. But that doesn’t make the concept of a self-driving car any less abstract.

The decision was based on the 2014 US Supreme Court decision Alice v. CLS Bank. The Alice case, although it did not expressly make software un-patentable, is seen as putting thousands of software-related patents at risk.

The Wake of Alice

More than 20 lower court rulings since the Alice decision have invalidated software patents. Only a few software-related patent cases since Alice have led to the patents at issue being upheld by the courts.

HP is one of the largest companies to have its patents invalidated the wake of Alice. The company said that it would proceed with its lawsuit based on the four remaining patents.