Federal Circuit Rules that Flower-Arranging Method is Abstract

The Federal Circuit has ruled that a method for creating a floral arrangement on an electronic display screen is abstract and thus not eligible for patent protection.

The case of In re Sturgeon involved an appeal from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).

The patent applicant, Jeannine A. Sturgeon, appealed a PTAB affirmation of a patent examiner’s rejection of her application under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Claim 2 of the patent application discloses:

A method of creating a floral arrangement on an electronic display screen, the method comprising:

selecting a flower from an image library comprising a plurality of images for the flower, the plurality of images including images of the flower from different angular positions;

placing the flower at a user-selected location in a floral arrangement that is displayed on an electronic display screen;

dynamically selecting one of the plurality of images of the flower based on the location of the flower in the floral arrangement; and

displaying the selected flower image in the floral arrangement displayed on the display screen.

As the court noted,

The question of eligibility under § 101 is governed by the two-step framework set out by the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International.

In the first step, a court must determine whether the claims are directed to a patent-ineligible concept, such as “a law of nature, natural phenomenon, or abstract idea.”

Sturgeon conceded that merely creating a floral arrangement using a computer was an abstract idea. But she argued that the patent claim wasn’t abstract because it added an element of realism to the floral arrangement.

The court found that the PTAB properly found that the claim was directed to

“mental processes,” “the abstract idea of managing personal behavior,” and “methods of organizing human activity”—in this case, arranging flowers—and [was] thus abstract…

As the court had previously explained, methods

which can be performed entirely in the human mind are unpatentable . . . because computational methods which can be performed entirely in the human mind are the types of methods that embody the “basic tools of scientific and technological work” that are free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.

In the second step of the analysis, if the subject matter is abstract then the court must

consider the elements of each claim both individually and ‘as an ordered combination’ to determine whether the additional elements ‘transform the nature of the claim’ into a patent-eligible application.” … That is, the second step must reveal an “inventive concept” to “ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon” an ineligible concept.

For the court to find an “inventive concept,” the patent must do more than recite an abstract idea “while adding the words ‘apply it.’”

Sturgeon argued that claim 2 involved an “inventive concept” in that it specified that an image of a flower at an appropriate angle must be selected from an image library based on the location the user picked for the library:

Claim 2 recites a method of “selecting a flower from an image library,” “placing the flower at a user-selected location,” “dynamically selecting” an image from the library based on the chosen location, and “displaying the selected flower . . . on the display screen.”

However, the court agreed with the PTAB that

these steps do not differentiate the claim from ordinary mental processes and conventional computer activity. All of these elements are described at a high level of generality and require only generic computer implementation. There is no inventive concept here that meaningfully adds to the existing practice of simulating a floral arrangement by creating a digital collage—which Sturgeon concedes is an abstract idea performed on a conventional computer.

Thus, the court affirmed the decision of the PTAB.

Categories: Patents