For the first time since 2020, the Federal Circuit issued an opinion finding claims of a computer-related invention to be eligible. Although designated as non-precedential, the case may signal a key claim feature that the court will look for in future Section 101 cases involving computer-related inventions.
In Mentone Solutions LLC v. Digi International Inc. (Nov. 15, 2021), the court reversed the District Court of Delaware’s finding that the claims of U.S. Patent 6,952,413 are invalid. The court focused on claim 5 of the patent, which is directed to a “multiple access communication method in a mobile station”. The claim requires the steps of:
- monitoring an assigned PDCH [(packet data channel)] to detect a USF [(uplink status flag)], and
- (i) if shifted USF operation is not used then a first assigned PDCH is monitored to detect a USF corresponding to the first assigned PDCH and (ii) if the shifted USF operation is used then a second assigned PDCH is monitored to detect the USF corresponding to the first assigned PDCH and a USF corresponding to the second assigned PDCH.
The district court noted that claim 5 does not recite “when, how, or why one would . . . shift the USF or how a shifted USF would specifically improve the functioning of a prior art system.” On this basis, the district court found the claim to be ineligible.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed, finding that “claim 5 is directed to a patent-eligible improvement to computer functionality, namely permitting additional multislot configurations for certain classes of mobile stations using extended bandwidth allocation.”
Notably, quoting its April 2020 Uniloc USA Inc. v. LG Electronics USA, Inc. decision, the Federal Circuit stated: “To the extent either the Appellees or the district court believe claim 5 must expressly mention the additional timeslots available or enabled by this achievement, they are mistaken. ‘Claims need not articulate the advantages of the claimed combinations to be eligible.’”
The Federal Circuit also contrasted the claims of this patent with those that it held ineligible in a previous case (Two-Way Media Ltd. v. Comcast Cable Communications), noting that in the past case “[w]e held the claims ineligible because they merely recited a series of abstract steps (“converting,” “routing,” “controlling,” “monitoring,” and “accumulating records”) using ‘result-based functional language’ without the means for achieving any purported technological improvement. … Here, there is no functional claiming, nor are there abstract steps.’”
The court’s quote from its Uniloc decision may signal that that in future cases, the court (or at least the judges on this panel) will more closely assess whether claims merely cite a result or a technical means of achieving the result, and the Uniloc decision (which is precedential) may become prominent in future cases.