Conventional business practices implemented by a generic computer are patent-ineligible under § 101

Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC v. DIRECTV, LLC, 2015-1845 (Fed. Cir., Sept. 23, 2016)

The plaintiff asserted its patent directed to streaming regional broadcast signals to cellular telephones located outside the region served by the regional broadcaster. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the patent-in-suit claimed a patent-ineligible abstract idea under 35 U.S.C. § 101. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed. 

The district court found that the purpose of the patent-in-suit was “the dissemination of regionally broadcasted content to users outside the region,” and also found that this purpose is a “fundamental economic and conventional business practice” that is both “well-known and historically long standing,” therefore, an abstract idea. The district court also found that the patent-in-suit did not claim an “inventive concept” required to make an abstract idea patent-eligible. Specifically, the district court found that the patent merely applied the abstract idea to a wireless cellular phone and that the patent’s specification was “devoid of any teaching or blueprint explaining how the device can do what it purports to do.” Therefore, since the claim-in-suit only took the abstract idea and said “apply it” to a wireless phone acting as a generic computer, the claim-in-suit was invalid. 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed that providing out-of-region access to regional broadcast content is an abstract idea under § 101. The court noted that the “practice of conveying regional content to out-of-region recipients has been employed by nearly every form of media that has a local distribution.” Further, the Federal Circuit found that there was nothing in the claim directed to how to implement out-of-region broadcasting, which meant the claim was simply drawn to the abstract idea itself. The Federal Circuit also found that the claim did not contain an eligibility saving “inventive concept” because the claim “simply recite[d] that the abstract idea of remote delivery will be implemented using the conventional components and functions generic to cellular telephones.” Notably, the Federal Circuit stated that, while some of the ideas in the claim might have been novel at the time of filing—e.g., downloading applications to a wireless device—this did not save the claim-in-suit from being an abstract idea because it only cited the novel functionality without reciting a particular technology implementing those functions.