Patent applicants whose applications have been assigned to the USPTO Technology Center 3600 have been particularly impacted by the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int'l. However, overcoming 101 rejections for applications assigned tothe TC 3600 is still achievable. A good example is U.S. Patent No. 9,444,932, issued in September, 2016. The applicant, represented by Knobbe Martens, overcame the Examiner’s 101 rejection in Ex parte Ravenel before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Appeal No. 2016-003604 (PTAB April 1, 2016).
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The claims in the patent are directed to providing digital media management in a quick service restaurant environment. The Board disagreed with the Examiner’s 101 rejection that the claims were directed to an abstract idea without significantly more and were not patent eligible. The Board found that “when [the various recited components of the system claim] are taken in the context of a system for managing digital display content as claimed, . . . the recited synergy . . . [is] that of the operation of a machine, and not the thought of a human mind.” Id. at 5 (emphasis added).
The Board reasoned that
[t]he resulting efficiency of . . . [the claimed system] is considered good economic practice goes to a successful device, and not to an abstract idea. That the . . . system includes items which relate to business practices . . . does not make the system on its face, drawn to economic practice and hence an abstract idea.
the system devices and or modules are configured to cause the recited function. They cannot be said to be generically recited computer elements in view of the requirement that they be configured for a special purpose. . . . [T]he claimed synergy between the devices of the claimed system is that of the operation of a machine, and not the thought of a human mind. Here, an improvement to computer system technology is manifest, and not an abstract idea.
Id. at 6.
Similarly, the Board found the corresponding method claim to be “so inextricable tied to the system . . . as to constitute a method of operation of the machine rather than human thought.” Id. at 7. Thus, the claimed method provides “an improvement to another technology or technical field” and is patent eligible. Id.
Overcoming 101 rejections for applications relating to software, especially for applications in TC 3600, can be problematic (USPTO statistics). Applicants with persistent 101 rejections should consider appealing their applications to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
A representative claim:
23. A system for managing digital display content in a plurality of quick service restaurant (QSR) environments, comprising:
a digital media delivery module configured to execute computer instructions on a processor which generated digital media data for a plurality of digital media devices in the QSR environments, the plurality of digital media devices including at least one digital menu display device;
a computer memory in each QSR environment configured to store the digital media data;
a point of sale interface configured to communicate with a point of sale system in each of the QSR environments;
a menu building module remote from the QSR environments and configured to:
receive a selection of menu items from menu data to include in a product menu;
receive a selection of promotional items from promotional data;
receive a definition of rules for displaying the promotional items;
assemble the selection of menu items, the selection of promotional items, and the definition of rules into a digital media package; and
transmit the same digital media package to the QSR environments for storage in the respective computer memory of each QSR environment;
a synchronization module configured to:
monitor point of sale data stored in the point of sale system and update the digital media data based upon a change to the point of sale data;
access the digital media package from the computer memory and modify the point of sale data to reflect the digital media package; and
a translation module configured to receive the digital media data from the memory and translate the digital media data into a format readable by the point of sale system,
wherein a structure of the digital media data as stored in the memory is incompatible with the point of sale data stored in the point of sale system,
wherein the synchronization module is further configured to maintain consistency between the digital media data and the point of sale data.