The Software IP Report

Patent Claims for Optimizing Helpdesk Requests Recite an Abstract Idea under 35 U.S.C. § 101

By Charles Bieneman

Categories: Patent Eligibility, Software Patents, The Software IP Report

Patent claims directed to a software system for “optimizing the efficiency” of processing IT helpdesk requests were held patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 as directed to abstract ideas. Accordingly, the court in Hewlett Packard Co. v. ServiceNow, Inc., Case No. 14-cv-00570-BLF (N.D. Cal. Mar. 10, 2015), granted summary judgment of invalidity with respect to U.S. Patents Nos. 8,224,683, 6,321,229, 7,890,802 and 7,610,512.

To summarize, the ’683 patent claims are directed to a system that tracks service tickets coming into a helpdesk, and provides alerts to the helpdesk user of “impending times for actions.” The ‘229 patent is directed toward “allowing hierarchical access to the information based on categories of information stored in the” IT database repository. The ‘802 and ‘512 patents are directed toward “automating workflows for resolving IT incidents.”

Using the framework set out by the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014), once claims are directed to an abstract idea, it is necessary to determine if the claims contain an “inventive concept” to ensure that the plaintiff “is claiming a patent-eligible application of this idea, rather than attempting to patent the idea itself.”

Here, the claims in the ’683 patent are simply directed to the abstract idea of “monitoring deadlines and providing an alert when the deadline is approaching.” Under Alice, preceding the abstract idea with the phrase “instructions for,” or “use a computer to” is insufficient to take that abstract idea from an “otherwise ineligible abstract idea into a patent-eligible application.” The phrase “configured to,” used in the present claims, was no different than reciting “instructions for” to precede a functional description of an abstract idea.

Further, court concluded that purportedly specialized data structures defined in the claims of the ‘229 patent were nothing more than: 1) a data structure that contains within it the information to “hierarchically” access to IT repository information; and 2) a “data structure for using that information.” These specialized data structures describe “every conceivable implementation of the abstract idea.”

Lastly, the workflow automation in the ‘512 and ‘802 patents was described “as teaching ‘a technological innovation that reduces the average time to resolve an IT incident’” The court concluded that the claims are “so broadly worded as to cover any attempt to automate” a system for IT incident resolution with a computer. The preemptive scope of such claims would have far reaching implications because “there is no incentive to develop new systems of computer-automated resolution of IT incidents,” for the cost of developing such a new system would have to include “licensing HP’s invention.”