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September, 19th, 2017
In the recent holding in Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corporation (Fed. Cir. August 15, 2017) the Federal Circuit again addressed the issue of whether a new computer memory system was an abstract idea being related to categorical data storage.
The court analyzed the claims under the test set out in Alice. The first step requires the court to determine whether the application is directed to a patent ineligible concept. The Court cited Enfish which allowed claims to pass Alice step one if they “were directed to an improvement in the computer’s functionality.”
The patent was related to a memory system having programmable operational characteristics that would allow it to be used with multiple different processors, without a loss of performance. The specification had expressly stated the innovation and how it was achieved. Both express statements were crucial in the validity decision.
The Court held that this patent was related to an improved computer memory and not to the abstract idea of categorical data storage. Explicit lines in the specification explained the benefits from the patents improved memory system. Specifically, the Court found that the use of programmable operational characteristics was configured based on the type of processor. Since the programs were being used on a specific hardware, the processor, they were not directed on a process qualifying as an abstract idea where computers are merely tools. Expressly listing the benefits assisted in showing the claims were not simply performing categorical data storage.
Since the patent was not directed towards an abstract idea, the Court did not have to perform the second step on Alice.
The Court has shown that the innovation and benefits of the claims are crucial to overcoming § 101 invalidity concerns. Delineating specific improvements made to computer functionality, as well as describing new hardware or combinations of hardware can surpass the Alice restrictions even at the first step of the process.
Further, specifically showing that any software or programs being run are based on a certain type of hardware will be much more likely to overcome an Alice rejection than a claim that simply runs on ordinary computer parts.
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