Fresh From the Bench: Latest Federal Circuit Court Cases
CASE OF THE WEEK
General Electric Co. v. Raytheon Techs. Corp., Appeal No. 2019-1319 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 23, 2020)
In one of two precedential opinions this week, the Federal Circuit established new precedent concerning what it takes for a petitioner to have standing to bring an appeal from an IPR. On the merits, the Court elaborated on the “obvious to try” doctrine in engaging in an obviousness analysis. The case was brought by General Electric, challenging claims of a patent for airplane jet engines owned by Raytheon Technologies Corporation. The technology at issue generally concerns a specific design for a two-stage gas turbine engine.
In this case, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of a patent case for patent-ineligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The patent at issue was generally directed to a system for developing object-based simulations on a computer through the use of graphical processes instead of text-based programming, including a limitation directed to an executable process to add a behavior to an instance of an object without changing the object definition, i.e., without affecting objects of the same type.
Based in part on the focus of the patent’s specification, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the claims as a whole were directed to “the decades-old computer programming practice of substituting text-based coding with graphical processing,” which was an ineligible abstract idea under step one of the Supreme Court’s Alice inquiry. Considering the “executable process” limitation under Alice step two, the Federal Circuit found that this was a well-known practice distinguished only by the use of graphics instead of programming. Because the limitation described only the claimed invention’s use of the ineligible concept to which it was directed, the Court held that it could not supply an inventive concept to render the invention significantly more than that abstract idea.
The Federal Circuit also affirmed the district court’s denial of patentee Simio’s motion for leave to amend its complaint after the dismissal ruling, agreeing with the district court that amendment would be futile. Specifically, Simio’s proposed amended allegations highlighted the improved speed and efficiency of the “executable process” limitation. The Court held that simply claiming the speed, efficiency, or improvement in user experience inherent with applying an abstract idea was insufficient to transform it into patent-eligible subject matter, and that allegations that the limitation improved the functioning of the computer itself were conclusory. Finally, although the issue was not reached by the district court, the Federal Circuit also affirmed on the independent ground that Simio had not shown good cause to amend its complaint after the district court’s deadline for doing so, which was agreed by the parties and entered after FlexSim had filed its motion to dismiss and before Simio had filed its opposition.