A federal district court held that grouping data together with a single code is an abstract idea and thus not eligible for patent protection.
Zyrcuits sued Acuity Brands and Universal Electronics Inc. for infringement of claim 4 of its US Patent No. 6,671,307 (the ‘307 patent).
The patent is titled "Spread-Spectrum High Data Rate System and Method" and it describes “applying signal codes to blocks of interleaved data for spread-spectrum transmission.”
According to the patent’s written description, “spread-spectrum transmission was previously accomplished using parallel codes.”
The defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the patent was invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 for failing to claim patentable subject matter.
Claim 4 of the patent recites:
[a] spread-spectrum method improvement for sending data over a communications channel, comprising the steps of:
storing, at a transmitter, N bits of interleaved data as stored data, with N a number of bits in a symbol;
selecting, at said transmitter in response to the N bits of stored data, a chip-sequence signal from a plurality of 2 N chip-sequence signals, as an output chip-sequence signal;
and transmitting, at said transmitter, the output chip sequence signal as a radio wave, at a carrier frequency, over said communications channel, as a spread-spectrum signal.
The court explained that:
claim 4 describes grouping together data that may come from multiple sources, applying a single chip-sequence code to the grouped data, and then transmitting the code by radio wave.
In the case of Alice Corp. Pty. v. CLS Bank Int'l, the US Supreme Court held that laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable subject matter.
However, as the district court noted in the Zyrcuits case,
[A]n invention is not rendered ineligible for patent [protection] simply because it involves an abstract concept[.] … [A]pplication[s] of such concepts to a new and useful end ... remain eligible for patent protection." But in order "to transform an unpatentable law of nature [or abstract idea] into a patent eligible application of such law [or abstract idea], one must do more than simply state the law of nature [or abstract idea] while adding the words 'apply it.’
The district court stated,
The Supreme Court has not established a definitive rule to determine what constitutes an 'abstract idea' sufficient to satisfy the first step of the Mayo/Alice inquiry.
However, the district court said,
The Federal Circuit has explained repeatedly that claims directed to the manipulation of data are abstract absent additional features, because "information as such is an intangible."
Hence, the district court determined that claim 4 of the ‘307 patent was abstract for the following reasons:
Representative claim 4 is directed to the manipulation of information: It requires "storing" specified data, "selecting" a signal based on the stored data, and then "transmitting" the signal. #307 patent at claim 4. Zyrcuits repeatedly refers to the content of claim 4 as an "algorithm." … "A process that start[s] with data, add[s] an algorithm, and end[s] with a new form of data [is] directed to an abstract idea." … This is exactly what is recited in claim 4.
The court concluded that
The #307 patent lacks any additional features that would make the claims eligible under §101, because it simply applies an abstract idea using conventional technology.
Thus, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim.