Complaint for Infringement of A Computer-Related Patent Fails to State a Claim for Relief

Content Extraction and Transmission, LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, [2013-1588, -1589, 2014-1112, -1687] (Fed. Cir. December 23, 2014) the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal under FRCP 12(b)(6) of plaintiff’s action for patent infringement claims, on the grounds that the patent claims did not define patentable subject matter.

The Federal Circuit applied the two-step process established by the Supreme Court in Mayo and Alice. In determining whether the claims were directed to a patent-ineligible abstract idea, the Federal Circuit observed that claims directed to the mere formation and manipulation of economic relations may involve an abstract idea. The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the claims are drawn to the abstract idea of 1) collecting data, 2) recognizing certain data within the collected data set, and 3) storing that recognized data in a memory.

The Federal Circuit then moved on to the second step, determining whether the limitations present in the claims represent a patent-eligible application of the abstract idea. The Federal Circuit sad that for the role of a computer in a computer implemented invention to be deemed meaningful, it must involve more than performance of well-understood, routine, and conventional activities previously known to the industry. The Federal Circuit added “the mere recitation of a generic computer cannot transform a patent ineligible abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.” The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the asserted patents contain no limitations — either individually or as an ordered combination — that transform the claims into a patent-eligible application. The Federal Circuit noted that CET conceded at oral argument that the use of a scanner or other digitizing device to extract data from a document was well-known at the time of filing, as was the ability of computers to translate the shapes on a physical page into typeface characters. The Federal Circuit concluded that At most, CET’s claims attempt to limit the abstract idea of recognizing and storing information from hard copy documents using a scanner and a computer to a particular technological environment. Such a limitation has been held insufficient to save a claim in this context.

The Federal Circuit concluded that we conclude that even when construed in a manner most favorable to CET, none of CET’s claims amount to “significantly more” than the abstract idea of extracting and storing data from hard copy documents using generic scanning and processing technology. It therefore found that the district court’s resolution of PNC’s motion to dismiss at the pleading stage was proper.

In another aspect of the case, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s tortious interference claims arising from the patent owner’s suing defendant’s customers, finding such action protected by the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. The Federal Circuit said that a person’s act of petitioning the government is presumptively shielded from liability by the First Amendment against certain types of claims. To overcome this presumptive immunity, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s instigation of litigation was merely a “sham.” This requires the plaintiff to show not only that the litigation was objectively baseless, but also that the defendant subjectively intended to harm the plaintiff through the abuse of a governmental process itself, as opposed to harms flowing from the outcome of that process.

While the Federal Circuit agreed with the result that the district court reached, it disagreed with the district court’s finding that the customer lawsuits were objectively baseless. The Federal Circuit pointed out that “the state of the law of § 101 was deeply uncertain at the time CET filed its complaints” and concluded that “[u]nder these circumstances, we cannot conclude that as a matter of law, no reasonable litigant in 2012 could have expected success on at least one of CET’s claims.”