Another fatality attributed to 35 U.S.C. §101 abstract idea

Bill Schertler | August 5, 2016

Electric Power Group, LLC v Alstom

August 1, 2016

Before: Taranto, Bryson and Stoll.  Opinion by Taranto.

Summary:

Electric Power Group sued Alstom alleging infringement of various claims of U.S. Patents Nos. 7,233,843; 8,060,259; and 8,401,710 directed to systems and methods for performing real-time performance monitoring of an electric power grid.  On Alstom’s motion for summary judgment, the district court held that Electric Power Group’s asserted patent claims fail the standard for patent eligibility under §101.  The CAFC affirmed finding the claims don’t go beyond the abstract idea of the collection, analysis, and display of available information in a particular field.

Details:

The claims at issue are directed to systems and methods for performing real-time performance monitoring of an electric power grid by collecting data from multiple data sources, analyzing the data, and displaying the results.  Representative claim 12 is set forth below.

12.  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 method comprising:

receiving a plurality of data streams, each of the data streams comprising sub-second, time stamped synchronized phasor measurements wherein the measurements in each stream are collected in real time at geographically distinct points over the wide area of the interconnected electric power grid, the wide area comprising at least two elements from among control are- as, transmission companies, utilities, regional reliability coordinators, and reliability jurisdictions;

receiving data from other power system data sources, the other power system data sources comprising at least one of transmission maps, power plant locations, EMS/SCADA systems;

receiving data from a plurality of non-grid data sources;

detecting and analyzing events in real-time from the plurality of data streams from the wide area based on at least one of limits, sensitivities and rates of change for one or more measurements from the data streams and dynamic stability metrics derived from analysis of the measurements from the data streams including at least one of frequency instability, voltages, power flows, phase angles, damping, and oscillation modes, derived from the phasor measurements and the other power system data sources in which the metrics are indicative of events, grid stress, and/or grid instability, over the wide area;

displaying the event analysis results and diagnoses of events and associated ones of the metrics from different categories of data and the derived metrics in visuals, tables, charts, or combinations thereof, the data comprising at least one of monitoring data, tracking data, historical data, prediction data, and summary data;

displaying concurrent visualization of measurements from the data streams and the dynamic stability metrics directed to the wide area of the interconnected electric power grid;

accumulating and updating the measurements from the data streams and the dynamic stability metrics, grid data, and non-grid data in real time as to wide area and local area portions of the interconnected electric power grid; and

deriving a composite indicator of reliability that is an indicator of power grid vulnerability and is derived from a combination of one or more real time measurements or computations of measurements from the data streams and the dynamic stability metrics covering the wide area as well as non-power grid data received from the non-grid data source.

The CAFC, of course, analyzed the claims using the two-stage framework established by the Supreme Court in Alice, which holds that a claim falls outside §101 where (1) it is directed to a patent ineligible concept, i.e., a law of nature, natural phenomenon, or abstract idea, and, (2) if so, the particular elements of the claim, considered both individually and as an ordered combination, do not add enough to transform the nature of the claim into a patent eligible application.

In evaluating whether the claims are directed to an abstract idea (stage 1 of Alice), the CAFC characterized the “focus” of the claims as being on collecting information, analyzing the collected information, and displaying certain results of the collection and analysis.  The court’s abstract idea analysis separately considered the collecting information, analyzing the collected information, and the displaying certain results of the collection and analysis, in view of previous decisions, and explained:

“…we have treated collecting information, including when limited to particular content (which does not change its character as information), as within the realm of abstract ideas.

….

In a similar vein, we have treated analyzing information by steps people go through in their minds, or by mathematical algorithms, without more, as essentially mental processes within the abstract-idea category.

…..

And we have recognized that merely presenting the results of abstract processes of collecting and analyzing information, without more (such as identifying a particular tool for presentation), is abstract as an ancillary part of such collection and analysis.”

 The CAFC concluded, “the claims are clearly focused on the combination of those abstract-idea processes. The 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.  They are therefore directed to an abstract idea.”

Turning to stage 2 of the Alice analysis, the CAFC looked at whether there was anything in the claims to transform the otherwise abstract process of information collection and analysis to a patent eligible application.

The CAFC pointed out that limiting the claims to the particular technological environment of power-grid monitoring is, without more, insufficient to transform them into patent-eligible applications of the abstract idea.

More particularly, the CAFC noted that 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 court further noted that the claims do not require a new source or type of information, or new techniques for analyzing the information.  As a result, the claims do not require an arguably inventive set of components or methods, such as measurement devices or techniques, that would generate new data.  Also, the claims do not require new programming.  That is, new algorithms are not claimed.  Merely requiring the selection and manipulation of information to provide a “humanly comprehensible” amount of information useful for users, by itself does not transform the otherwise-abstract processes of information collection and analysis.

Finally, the court turned its inquiry to whether the claims require any nonconventional computer, network, or display components.  The CAFC found that the claims at issue do not require any nonconventional computer, network, or display components, or even a “non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces,” but merely call for performance of the claimed information collection, analysis, and display functions “on a set of generic computer components” and display devices.

Nothing in the claims, understood in light of the specification, requires anything other than off-the-shelf, conventional computer, network, and display technology for gathering, sending, and presenting the desired information.  The CAFC stated “[w]e have repeatedly held that such invocations of computers and networks that are not even arguably inventive are ‘insufficient to pass the test of an inventive concept in the application’ of an abstract idea.”   In this case the claims’ invocation of computers, networks, and displays does not transform the claimed subject matter into patent-eligible applications.

The CAFC affirmed the district court’s ruling, stating “Though lengthy and numerous, the claims don’t go beyond requiring 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.

Full Opinion

 

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