After a remand from the Federal Circuit decision nixing one independent claim of US patent no. 6,155,840 under 35 U.S.C. § 112, the district court has now held remaining independent claims patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, No. CV 11-02409 SJO (JEMx) (C.D. Cal. Feb 17, 2016). All of the independent claims of the ’840 patent were directed to systems and methods of computerized distributed learning. In June 2015, the Federal Circuit held independent claim 8 invalid under Section 112 for including a claim term that was properly construed under the means-plus-function rubric, and that did not identify sufficient structure in the Specification. The district court has now agreed with the defendants that the remaining claims are drawn to an unpatentable abstract idea.
Independent claim 1 of the ’840 patent, which the parties agreed was representative, recites:
1. A method of conducting distributed learning among a plurality of computer systems coupled to a network, the method comprising the steps of:
providing instructions to a first computer system coupled to the network for:
creating a graphical display representative of a classroom;
creating a graphical display illustrating controls for selecting first and second data streams;
creating a first window for displaying the first selected data stream; and
creating a second window for displaying the second selected data stream, wherein
the first and second windows are displayed simultaneously; and
providing instructions to a second computer system coupled to the network for:
creating a graphical display representative of the classroom;
creating a third window for displaying the first selected data stream; and
creating a fourth window for displaying the second selected data stream, wherein
the third and fourth windows are displayed simultaneously.
The court agreed with the defendants’ position that the ’840 patent invention was “an application of the abstract idea of using a classroom as an interactive teaching environment.” This position was supported by the intrinsic evidence. For example, the Specification characterized the invention as generally pertaining “to teaching and collaborative learning.” Further, the Specification explained that the disclosed system used networked software “to provide a classroom- or auditorium-like metaphor.” Indisputably, the court found, “the purpose of these claims is to create a virtual environment that permits multiple users to view content and interact simultaneously.”
The plaintiff nonetheless argued that the claims recited an inventive concept of sufficient to overcome the abstract idea. However, the court found that “[n]o meaningful limitations are placed on the hardware or software required to be used in the claimed methods or systems.” Computers were ubiquitous at the time the application for the ’840 patent was filed, recitations of “a data stream,” and “streaming content” were not inventive. Further, recitations directed to a “graphical display representative of a classroom” simply embodied the abstract idea of the claims without more.
Moreover, the court gave no weight to “both parties’ apparent fascination with the issue of ‘novelty’ in the Section 101 context.” Novelty does not, the court explained, “make an abstract idea patent eligible.”
The court then went on to distinguish the case from DDR Holdings, to which the plaintiff had tried to compare it. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that claim 1 survived Alice under the machine-or-transformation test.
The court concluded that summary judgment was proper because “none of the asserted claims meaningfully limit the abstract idea of creating a virtual, interactive learning environment, and as a result, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that each of the remaining asserted claims is unpatentable under Section 101.”