A federal district court has held that the idea of grouping data together with a single code is abstract and thus patent-ineligible.
Zyrcuits IP LLC sued Acuity Brands and Universal Electronics Inc. for infringement of claim 4 of US Patent No. 6,671,307 (the ‘307 patent).
The ‘307 patent is titled “Spread-Spectrum High Data Rate System and Method” and 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.
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.
In other words, as the court explains,
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.
The defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the patent was invalid for failure to claim patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
The Supreme Court has held that laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable subject matter. Alice Corp. Pty. v. CLS Bank Int’l.
However, as the district court noted,
[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.”
As the district court also noted,
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.
The Supreme Court has recognized that “fundamental economic practices, methods of organizing human activity, and mathematical formulae are abstract ideas.”
The district court noted that
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.”
The judge found that claim 4 was abstract on the following grounds:
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.
So what does this all have to do with the glamorous picture of actress Hedy Lamarr at the top of this blog?
During World War II, Lamarr invented something similar to the invention claimed in this case and was granted U.S. Patent 2,292,387. Her frequency-hopping system was designed to prevent radio-controlled torpedoes from being tracked or jammed. Later, spread-spectrum technologies related to her invention led to Bluetooth and WiFi.
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