Abstract ideas are not patentable. This is simple statement has caused continued confusion and frustration. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled that a garage door opening device that differs from the prior art only in that it utilizes “off the self” wireless communicating technology is an abstract idea. Use of known technical devices is not abstract.
Whoa?! Isn’t the correct issue pertaining to combining known elements a question of whether the claimed invention would be an obvious change to a person skilled in the technology? If it’s obvious, then it’s not patentable.
In my opinion, the court has engaged in the wrong analysis and caused further confusion regarding what is patent eligible subject matter. The court went off on a “abstract” journey to determine the substance of wireless communication to be an abstract idea. It concluded that the wireless communication constituted merely the abstract handling or manipulation of data.
“the claims merely recite a system that communicates status information, in the same “well understood” manner that wireless transmissions have always occurred.”
The court apparently adopted the position that the disputed claim was “directed to the abstract idea of wireless transmission of content”.
There are probably various conclusion that can be reached here, e.g., that wireless communication is an abstract phenomena that is not patent eligible. This is absurd.
The court has elsewhere stated that “If I could write on a clean slate, I would write as an exception to patent eligibility, as respects natural laws, only claims directed to the natural law itself, e.g., E=mc2, F=ma, Boyle’s Law, Maxwell’s Equations, etc. I would not exclude uses or detection of natural laws” (as patentable subject matter).”
See my discussion Patenting Medical Devices and Procedures
Transmitting data wirelessly is a specific application of multiple technologic devices, not a natural law or abstract idea.
Further the court in the instant case concluded that the claim was directed to the abstract idea of wireless communication. The claim however states it pertains to a “moveable barrier operator”. The operator contains a controller, a movable barrier interface coupled to the controller and a wireless status condition data transmitter coupled to the controller. The claim comprises a controller (e.g., motor), moveable barrier interface, e.g., a linkage between the barrier and the motor, and a transmitter, e.g. transmitting signals to control the motor.
This device, suggested to be a garage door opener, may be an obvious combination of components or it may be anticipated by existing devices, but it does not comprise an abstract idea.
My angst is that the court chose an already confused and troublesome path to invalidate the patent. This is unnecessary at best.
Copyright David McEwing 2019