The Software IP Report

Patent Claims to Analyzing and Using Power Grid Data Fail under Alice and Mayo

By Charles Bieneman

Categories: Patent Eligibility, The Software IP Report

The Alice/Mayo 35 U.S.C. § 101 patent-eligibility test easily resulted in the invalidity of patent claims directed to “real-time performance monitoring of an electric power grid.”  Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A., No. 2015-1778 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 1, 2016).  Accordingly, a panel consisting of Judges Taranto (the opinion’s author), Bryson, and Stoll, affirmed a district court holding of invalidity of claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,233,843; 8,060,259; and 8,401,710.

A representative claim recited method steps well over a page long for “[a] method of detecting events on an interconnected electric power grid in real time over a wide area and automatically analyzing the events on the interconnected electric power grid.”  The court explained that:

[t]hough lengthy and numerous, the claims do not go beyond requiring the collection, analysis, and display of available information in a particular field, stating those functions in general terms, without limiting them to technical means for performing the functions that are arguably an advance over conventional computer and network technology. The claims, defining a desirable information-based result and not limited to inventive means of achieving the result, fail under § 101.

The claims were directed to an “abstract idea” because “[t]he advance they purport to make is a process of gathering and analyzing information of a specified content, then displaying the results, and not any particular assertedly inventive technology for performing those functions.”  Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., 822 F.3d 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2016), was distinguishable because here “the focus of the claims is not on such an improvement in computers as tools, but on certain independently abstract ideas that use computers as tools.”

Turning to the second part of the Mayo/Alice test, the court found nothing to transform the abstract idea to patent-eligible subject matter because the claims were simply directed to analyzing data, and not to improving computing performance.  The court explained:

a large portion of the lengthy claims is devoted to enumerating types of information and information sources available within the power-grid environment. But merely selecting information, by content or source, for collection, analysis, and display does nothing significant to differentiate a process from ordinary mental processes, whose implicit exclusion from § 101 undergirds the information-based category of abstract ideas.

The claims required only conventional computers and networks.  Further, the district court had rightly noted that the claims stated a problem – “the need to monitor and analyze data from multiple distinct parts of a power grid” – and then had sought to patent all solutions to the problem.  The Federal Circuit agreed that “allowing claims like Electric Power Group’s claims here would ‘inhibit[ ] innovation by prohibiting other inventors from developing their own solutions to the problem without first licensing the abstract idea.’”

The takeaway: patent claims directed to monitoring and analyzing data, even in a “technical” environment, will continue to have a tough slog under Alice.