Software Patents Demand Specific, Technologically Grounded Claims

| May 3, 2024

AI Visualize, Inc. vs. Nuance Communications, Inc. and Mach7 Technologies, Inc.

Decided: April 4, 2024

Before: MOORE, Chief Judge, REYNA, and HUGHES, Circuit Judges.


      The Federal Circuit upheld a district court decision that dismissed AI Visualize’s patent infringement lawsuit against Nuance Communications and Mach7 Technologies. The court agreed with the lower court’s finding that the patents claimed patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101, focusing on abstract ideas without enough inventive concept to warrant patent protection.


      AI Visualize asserted that Nuance Communications and Mach7 Technologies had infringed on its patents related to the visualization of medical scans through a web-based portal. The patents at issue include four patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 8,701,167; 9,106,609; 9,438,667; and 10,930,397. All these patents share a common specification that describes systems and methods aimed at improving the access and visualization of volumetric medical data, such as that obtained from MRI and CT scans, through a web-based portal. The patented technology demonstrates a centralized system that processes medical scan data and visualizes it remotely, allowing efficient transmission of three-dimensional views over low-bandwidth connections, thus facilitating better diagnostic capabilities across diverse medical environments.

      The central dispute revolved around whether the patented methods and systems constituted an abstract idea under the Alice two-step framework. Nuance and Mach7 argued that the patent claims failed to transform this abstract idea into a patent-eligible application due to lack of an inventive concept. The district court agreed, finding that the patents were directed to the basic concept of manipulating and displaying data, a task it considered routine and conventional in the field.

Claim 1 of the ‘609 patent, representing the first group of claims, was central to this dispute.

1.            A system for viewing at a client device at a remote location a series of three-dimensional virtual views over the Internet of a volume visualization dataset contained on at least one centralized database comprising:

at least one transmitter for accepting volume visualization dataset from remote location and transmitting it securely to the centralized database;

at least one central data storage medium containing the volume visualization dataset;

a plurality of servers in communication with the at least one centralized database and capable of processing the volume visualization dataset to create virtual views based on client request;

a resource manager device for load balancing the plurality of servers;

a security device controlling the plurality of communications between a client device, and the server; including resource manager and central storage medium;

at least one physically secured site for housing the centralized database, plurality of servers, at least a resource manager, and at least a security device;

a web application adapted to satisfy a user’s request for the three-dimensional virtual views by: a) accepting at a remote location at least one user request for a series of virtual views of the volume visualization dataset, the series of views comprising a plurality of separate view frames, the remote location having a local data storage medium for storing frames of views of the volume visualization dataset, b) determining if any frame of the requested views of the volume visualization dataset is stored on the local data storage medium, c) transmitting from the remote location to at least one of the servers a request for any frame of the requested views not stored on the local data storage medium, d) at at least one of the servers, creating the requested frames of the requested views from the volume visualization dataset in the central storage medium, e) transmitting the created frames of the requested views from at least one of the servers to the client device, f) receiving the requested views from the at least one server, and displaying to the user at the remote location the requested series of three-dimensional virtual views of the volume visualization dataset by sequentially displaying frames transmitted from at least one of the servers along with any frames of the requested series of views stored on the local data storage medium.


      The Federal Circuit’s analysis focused on whether the district court was correct in its application of the Alice two-step test for patent eligibility. This two-step framework is critical for determining whether a patent’s claims involve patent-eligible subject matter under Section 101.

      In the first step of the Alice analysis, the court examines whether the claims at issue are directed to an abstract idea. For AI Visualize’s patents, the Federal Circuit assessed whether the system and method for visualizing medical scans, as claimed, merely recited an abstract concept without applying or using it in a uniquely technological manner.

      The court found that the patents were primarily directed to the abstract idea of manipulating and displaying data, specifically the storage, retrieval, and graphical representation of medical imaging data. The court referenced their conclusion in Hawk Tech. Sys., LLC v. Castle Retail, LLC, 60 F.4th 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2023), noting that “converting information from one format to another . . . is an abstract idea.”

      Having determined that the claims were directed to an abstract idea, the court then proceeded to step two of the Alice test, which involves determining whether the claim elements, either individually or as an ordered combination, add something significantly more to the abstract idea to transform the claim into patent-eligible subject matter. This “something more” must be an inventive concept that is not merely an instruction to implement or apply the abstract idea on a generic computer or using generic technology.

      In reviewing AI Visualize’s claims, the court concluded that the methods described for processing and visualizing medical data did not involve an inventive concept sufficient to warrant patent protection. The claims were found to involve routine and conventional computer functions that are generic enough to be performed on any computer network. This included the creation of virtual views from medical data, transmitting these views over low-bandwidth networks, and enabling remote access via a web portal—none of which constituted a technological improvement over existing practices.

      AI Visualize cites several sections of the specification to argue that creating virtual views offers a technical solution to a technical problem. This includes a section that explains how dynamic and static virtual views are formed by selecting related image frames from a volume visualization dataset. However, the court declined to consider details from the specification that are not specifically claimed.

      Moreover, the court noted that the claimed invention did not solve a technical problem in an innovative way but rather applied a known solution (data manipulation and visualization) to a practice long prevalent in the field of computer systems.

      The decision reaffirms the strict standards imposed by the Federal Circuit for patent eligibility under Section 101, emphasizing that a patent’s claims must do more than simply apply an abstract idea using conventional and well-understood applications. They must demonstrate a specific, inventive concept that enhances the technological process in a non-obvious way. This ruling highlights the challenges patent applicants face in securing protection for software-based innovations, particularly those that could be viewed as abstract ideas without clear, specific, and technologically rooted implementations.


  • The decision reinforces the importance of demonstrating a specific, technologically rooted inventive concept in patent claims, particularly in fields involving software and data manipulation.
  • Patents that broadly claim the performance of “abstract ideas” such as data retrieval and display without a clearly defined inventive mechanism are likely to face challenges under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
  • It is essential to provide detailed technical descriptions in patent applications and include technological specificity in the patent claims to effectively present the unique contributions.

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