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Free Software Sentry – watching and reporting maneuvers of those threatened by software freedom
Updated: 7 min 49 sec ago

Software Patents Trickle in After § 101/Alice, But Courts Would Not Honour Them Anyway

Sunday 18th of February 2018 05:01:56 PM

Buzzwords are used to disguise patents on algorithms, but in-depth analysis would expose them for what they really are

Pendulum does not swing back; buzzwords just move back and forth

Summary: The dawn of § 101/Alice, which in principle eliminates almost every software patent, means that applicants find themselves having to utilise loopholes to fool examiners, but that’s unlikely to impress judges (if they ever come to assessing these patents)

THE USPTO will continue to grant software patents in the foreseeable future, but that does not mean that these patents will be able to cause much damage. Why not? As we shall show later today and tomorrow, PTAB smacks down many of these patents. It’s an invaluable mechanism of quality control, akin to oppositions and appeals at the EPO.

One might ask, “why are software patents granted after Alice?”

The answer is simple. There are tricks. The EPO and other patent offices too have tricks. Those are usually designed to bypass examiners’ guidelines — the sorts of guidelines that matter a lot less to courts which assess past court cases and underlying evidence, such as prior art and expert testimonies. Knowing that the courts are hostile towards software patents, many potential plaintiffs (patent holders) will not even bother suing. And that’s a good thing.

This post concerns few of the aforementioned tricks, which exploit loopholes. Many of them are nowadays buzzwords, which help dodge § 101/Alice (at least at a superficial level). At the EPO they like to use terms like “technical effect” or “device”, but in the USPTO it looks like “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) is currently one of the favourites because the corporate media resurrected that hype. Almost any algorithm can be framed as “AI” as it’s a rather nebulous concept. We previously wrote many articles about other buzzwords, such as “cloud”, not to mention the old “over the Internet”, “on a computer” and so on.

Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP, a very large law firm, is still all about buzzwords in patents. Without even delving into the underlying granularities, the headline alone is rather telling: blah blah blah Artificial Intelligence blah blah.

Wow. Must be innovative because “AI” is supposedly “hot”! Granted! Yesterday Watchtroll wrote about passage of some patents in the “self-driving space,” arguing that it “delivers on Didi’s commitment to invest in artificial intelligence capacity.”


I already wrote some algorithms related to this (self-driving tools) and the only “AI” in it tends to be some classifier trained on an image set to help segment an unseen image (or long sequence thereof). That’s hardly innovative. It could be made to work several decades agp and in fact there were working implementations a long time ago; they just lacked sufficient computing power.

Here’s what Finnegan says in relation to “AI” and § 101:

In addition to § 101 concerns, AI in medicine raises questions of inventorship and ownership in patent law. The US patent system only recognizes individuals as inventors,38 not companies39 or machines.40 But with AI, it may be the machine that is taking the inventive leap, not the human programmer. Recently, both Google and Facebook have seen AI develop its own language to perform the assigned tasks, eschewing known languages in favor of a more efficient means of communication.41 As the use of AI grows in medicine and the life sciences, it is more and more likely that the AI will be the entity taking the inventive step, drawing new conclusions between the observed and the unknown. Indeed, current AI systems develop their own code as a result of the system’s training.42 If that is the case, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the courts will have to decide whether the current Patent Act encompasses computer-based inventors, and if not, who among the humans responsible for the AI should be considered an inventor.43 The list of possible human inventors includes the AI software and hardware developers, the medical professionals or experts who provided the data set with known values or otherwise provided input into the development of the AI, and/or those who reviewed the AI results and recognized that an invention had been made.

Examiners ought to be reminded that “AI” just means algorithms and patents on algorithms are annulled by § 101. Here’s an example of computer vision patents that have just been granted by the USPTO. This article says: “The last patent includes foreground motion detection in compressed video data with software that can tell the difference between background and foreground features in compressed video streams.”

That’s pure software. Surely they know these are worthless after Alice? Or maybe they delude themselves into thinking otherwise? In relation to an Olympian called Vincent Zhou there was coverage some days ago that said: “One is a 28-year-old from a blue-collar home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The other is a 17-year-old son of Chinese immigrants, two computer scientists, who hails from California.”

“She owns numerous software patents,” it said further down. Well, too bad they’re worthless now, eh? Here’s another new example of patents on software, this time from LINE. Again, these patents are worthless after Alice. Why are they being granted? As we shall show in a separate article, few grants are even being challenged; those that do typically perish (PTAB overturning examiners’ determinations).

Here’s another software patent. “GBOX develops all software both inhouse and with international subsidiaries,” says the release, “and has been awarded 5 provisional patents for its technology.”

How many of them (if any) are even worth anything?

“With Valentine’s Day upon us, one would rightly suspect that there is already an abundance of patents and patent applications related to online dating software,” lawyers’ media said some days ago. But software patents are worthless now. They themselves call it “software”. Do they conveniently overlook the issue? Don’t they try to disguise it by calling it something like “technology”?

“Blockchain” is another term that we often see used in relation to software patents. That’s just a tired new loophole that software patents proponents love to exploit. It’s an algorithm. And watch the China envy:

China is leading the world in blockchain patents: incoPat published the 2017 Global Blockchain Patent Ranking (top 100) applications for invention-, utility- and design-patents. See:

Well, China — unlike the US — actually permits software patents, so there might be nothing wrong about this. There’s something wrong with the policy, sure, but not with the application thereof.

For the record, we’re not against patents that aren’t on algorithms. We’re very picky in selecting what to criticse. Here, for instance, is a press release about a new patent settlement over bar code readers (not software, no problem). It says:

Honeywell (NYSE: HON) today announced that it has reached a settlement with Code Corp., a company that manufactures bar code readers, to settle Honeywell’s claims that Code infringed certain Honeywell patents related to bar code scanning technology.

The scanning techniques tend to involve sensory aspects that are hardware-side, not software-side heuristics. The projection and reflection of infrared lights for instance.

Thankfully, as time goes by we see fewer software patents slipping through the sieve. Does that mean that the USPTO will stop granting software patents altogether one day? We doubt it. But the number of lawsuits over algorithms will decline sharply unless something radical happens (like PTAB getting squashed).

In Aatrix v Green Shades the Court is Not Tolerating Software Patents But Merely Inquires/Wonders Whether the Patents at Hand Are Abstract

Sunday 18th of February 2018 03:19:15 PM

Some bits of sensationalism, motivated by patent maximalism, leave Aatrix v Green Shades somewhat misrepresented (just like Berkheimer v HP Inc.)

Green Shades has not necessarily lost (decision vacated)

Summary: Aatrix alleges patent infringement by Green Shades, but whether the patents at hand are abstract or not remains to be seen; this is not what patent maximalists claim it to be (“A Valentine for Software Patent Owners” or “valentine for patentee”)

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, on Valentine’s Day to be precise, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled in a case [PDF] that law firms rushed to cover (Knobbe Martens). Adam Powell and Diana E. Wade from Knobbe Martens wrote the following with some background:

Aatrix sued Green Shades for infringement of two patents directed to systems and methods for designing, creating, and importing data into a viewable form on a computer. Green Shades moved to dismiss under § 101. The district court granted the motion and denied leave to file a proposed amended complaint. Aatrix appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The main question is, are these really software patents? Not every time Alice gets invoked will it work; it’s not a magic wand.

‘Early birds’ wrote about it in relation to 101/Alice, calling it “PRECEDENTIAL” and dubbing it “A Valentine for Software Patent Owners”.

Another one said: “Aatrix SW FedCir 2/14/18 valentine for patentee: Circuit vacates DCt’s R12b6 dismissal for no 101 eligible s/m; tangible computer system for creating forms; can dismiss on pleadings only if no factual allegn’s prevent resolving eligibility as legal q. No DCt claim constrn either. [] Reyna, J. dissent: disagrees with the majority’s broad statements on the role of factual evidence in § 101 inquiry. “Our precedent is clear that the § 101 inquiry is a legal question.” Majority tries to shoehorn significant fact component into Alice analysis. [Battle is joined!] [] I’m cautiously liking the Moore, J. approach on this. 101 eligibility must logically sometimes raise fact q’s, just like claim construction. If we’re stuck with a ridiculous test like Alice’s step 2 “transformative inventive concept,” at least we should look at underlying facts.”

“Question for en banc review of Aatrix,” added the former person. “Is a consideration whether various claim elements simply recite ‘well-understood, routine, conventionalactivit[ies] a question of Law or Fact?”

In recent days we saw some press coverage about it:

The Federal Circuit faulted a lower court Wednesday for invalidating data manipulation patents as abstract ideas on a motion to dismiss, the second time in days the court has held that a judge too quickly found that patents failed the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice test.

This is alluding to Berkheimer v HP Inc., which we covered thrice already [1, 2, 3]. One has to be careful not to take the patent microcosm at face value. They’re desperate for CAFC cases in favour of software patents; since they can barely find any they try to make some up.

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