patentability : CAFC Alert

Limitations of Result-Based Functional Language and Generic Computer Components in Patent Eligibility

| May 2, 2023

Hawk Technology Systems, Llc V. Castle Retail, LLC

Before REYNA, HUGHES, and CUNNINGHAM, Circuit Judges.


      The district court granted Castle Retail’s motion, finding that the patent claims were directed towards the abstract idea of storing and displaying video without providing an inventive step to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention. The district court dismissed Hawk’s case, and Hawk appealed. The Federal Circuit upheld the district court’s decision, affirming that the patent claims were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.


      Hawk Technology Systems is the owner of a US Patent  No. 10,499,091 ( the ’91 patent) entitled “High-Quality, Reduced Data Rate Streaming Video Product and Monitoring System.” The patent was filed in 2017 and granted in 2019, with priority claimed back to 2002. It describes a technique for displaying multiple stored video images on a remote viewing device in a video surveillance system, using a configuration that utilizes existing broadband infrastructure and a generic PC-based server to transmit signals from cameras as streaming sources at low data rates and variable frame rates. The patent claims that this approach reduces costs, minimizes memory storage requirements, and enhances bandwidth efficiency.

      Hawk Technology Systems sued Castle Retail for patent infringement in Tennessee, alleging that Castle Retail’s use of security surveillance video operations in its grocery stores infringed on Hawk’s patent. Castle Retail moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the patent claims were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101, as they were directed towards ineligible subject matter.

      The ‘091 patent contains six claims, but the appellant, Hawk Technology Systems, did not assert that there was any significant difference between the claims regarding eligibility. As a result, claim 1 was selected as representative, which recites:

1. A method of viewing, on a remote viewing device of a video surveillance system, multiple simultaneously displayed and stored video images, comprising the steps of:

receiving video images at a personal computer based system from a plurality of video sources, wherein each of the plurality of video sources comprises a camera of the video surveillance system;

digitizing any of the images not already in digital form using an analog-to-digital converter;

displaying one or more of the digitized images in separate windows on a personal computer based display device, using a first set of temporal and spatial parameters associated with each image in each window;

converting one or more of the video source images into a selected video format in a particular resolution, using a second set of temporal  and spatial  parameters associated with each image;

contemporaneously   storing   at   least   a subset of the converted images in a storage device in a network environment;

providing a communications link to allow an external viewing device to access the storage device;

receiving, from a remote viewing device remoted located remotely from the video surveillance system, a request to receive one or more specific streams of the video images;

transmitting, either directly from one or more of the plurality of video sources or from the storage device over the communication link to the remote viewing device, and in the selected video format in the particular resolution, the selected video format being a progressive video format which has a frame rate of less than substantially 24 frames per second using a third set of temporal and spatial parameters associated with each image, a version or versions of one or more of the video images to the remote viewing device, wherein the communication link traverses an external broadband connection between the remote computing device and the network environment; and

displaying only the one or more requested specific streams of the video images on the remote computing device.

      In September 2021, the district court granted Castle Retail’s motion to dismiss the case. The court found that the claims in Hawk’s ‘091 patent failed the two-part Alice test. The court determined that the ‘091 patent is directed to an abstract idea of a method for storing and displaying video, and that the claimed elements are generic computer elements without any technological improvement.

      Hawk’s argument that the temporal and spatial parameters are the inventive concept was also rejected, as the claims and specification failed to explain what those parameters are or how they should be manipulated. The district court also found that the claimed “analog-to-digital converter” and “personal computer based system” were not technological improvements, but rather generic computer elements. Additionally, it determined that the “parameters and frame rate” defined in the claims and specification did not appear to be more than manipulating data in a way that has been found to be abstract.

      The district court concluded that the claims can be implemented using off-the-shelf, conventional computer technology and entered judgment against Hawk. Hawk appealed the decision.


       The Federal Circuit applied Alice step one in this case to determine if the ’091 patent claims were directed to an abstract idea. They agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of  “storing and displaying video.”

      The Federal Circuit further clarified that the claims are directed to a method of receiving, displaying, converting, storing, and transmitting digital video “using result-based functional language.” Two-Way Media Ltd. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns, LLC, 874 F.3d 1329, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2017). The claims require various functional results of “receiving video images,” “digitizing any of the images not already in digital form,” “displaying one or more of the digitized images,” “converting one or more of the video source images into a selected video format,” “storing at least a subset of the converted images,” “providing a communications link,” “receiving . . . a request to receive one or more specific streams of the video images,” “transmitting . . . a version of one or more of the video images,” and “displaying only the one or more requested specific streams of the video images.” 

      Hawk argued that the ’091 patent claims were not directed to an abstract idea but to a specific technical problem and solution related to maintaining full-bandwidth resolution while providing professional quality editing and manipulation of digital video images. However, this argument failed because the Federal Circuit found that the claims themselves did not disclose how the alleged goal was achieved and that converting information from one format to another is an abstract idea. Furthermore, the claims did not recite a specific solution to make the alleged improvement concrete and, at most, recited abstract data manipulation. Therefore, the ’091 patent claims lacked sufficient recitation of how the purported invention improved the functionality of video surveillance systems and amounted to a mere implementation of an abstract idea.

      At Alice step two, the claim elements were examined individually and as a combination to determine if they transformed the claim into a patent-eligible application of the abstract idea. The district court found that the claims did not show a technological improvement in video storage and display and that the limitations could be implemented using generic computer elements.

      Hawk argued that the claims provided an inventive solution that achieved the benefit of transmitting the same digital image to different devices for different purposes while using the same bandwidth, citing specific tools, parameters, and frame rates.     The Federal Circuit acknowledged that the claims mentioned “parameters.” However, the claims did not specify what these parameters were, and at most they pertained to abstract data manipulation such as image formatting and compression. Hawk did not contest that the claims involved conventional components to carry out the method. The Federal Circuit also noted that the ‘091 patent affirmed that the invention was meant to “utilize” existing broadband media and other conventional technologies. Thus, the Federal Circuit found that there is nothing inventive in the ordered combination of the claim limitations and noted that Hawk has not pointed to anything inventive.

      The Federal Circuit determined that the claims in the ‘091 patent did not transform the abstract concept into something substantial and therefore did not pass the second step of the Alice test. As a result, the Federal Circuit concluded that the ‘091 patent is ineligible since its claims address an abstract idea that was not transformed into eligible subject matter.       


  • Reciting an abstract idea performed on a set of generic computer components does not contain an inventive concept.
  • Claims that use result-based functional language in combination with generic computer components may not be sufficient to transform an abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter.

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