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January, 31st, 2017
The Federal Circuit, in Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. CQG, Inc. et al., found claims covering a graphical user interface (GUI) for electronic trading of stocks to be patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Although the court’s decision was not designated precedential, this case bears significance for inventors seeking software patents.
Like most cases following the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, a two-part analysis was used to determine whether the claims embody patent-eligible subject matter. The first part looks at whether the claims are directed to patent-ineligible concepts: laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas. If the claims are directed to patent-ineligible concepts, the second part is applied to determine whether the elements of each claim, considered both individually and as an ordered combination, transform the nature of the claims into a patent-eligible application. As such, there needs to be an inventive concept or a combination of elements sufficient to ensure that the claim in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent on an ineligible concept.
In Trading Technologies, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court’s finding that the claims were not directed mathematical algorithms, fundamental economic or commercial practice, or a challenge in business. Instead, the claims are directed to improvements in GUI devices that have no “pre-electronic trading analog,” and specify more than the mere “setting, displaying, and selecting [of] data or information that is visible on the GUI device.” They require “a specific, structured graphical user interface” in conjunction with “a prescribed functionality directly related to the graphical user interface’s structure” that solves identified problems of prior art GUIs, namely in the context of computerized trading, relating to speed, accuracy and usability. Thus, under the first part of the Alice analysis, the Federal Circuit found the GUI claims concerned patent-eligible concepts. It was further held that GUIs are not an idea that has long existed, which is a benchmark for determining an ineligible abstract idea.
The court continued to evaluate the claims under the second part of Alice analysis despite satisfying the primary threshold. It found the claims to recite the inventive concept of static price index, which provides traders with more accurate and efficient placement of trades. The claims contain specific structure and related functionality of the GUI, which shifts the claims beyond patent-ineligible abstract ideas. Should the claims have been drawn to the idea itself without implementing programmatic structure, the court would have deemed them ineligible for patenting.
Takeaway: In order to increase the chances of software claims obtaining patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101, the claims should:
Provide particular improvements in computer operation;
Recite a specific implementation of a solution to a problem in the software arts, for example a specific functionality to a system; and
Include limitations that are directed to a specific, structured graphical user interface and relate such structure to a particular functionality.