Website Navigation Claims Patent-Ineligible, Says Federal Circuit

The Federal Circuit has agreed with a district court that claims of U.S. Patent No. 7,707,505 were directed to “retaining information lost in the navigation of online forms,” and that this subject matter constitutes an unpatentable abstract idea.  Internet Patents Corp. v. Active Network, Inc., Nos. 2014-1048, 2014-1061, 2014-1062, 2014-1063 (Fed. Cir. June 23, 2015).  Two aspects of this case are worth noting.  First, the invalidated claims were held to be abstract even though they had no manual analog, and could not have been practiced without a computer.  Second, the court’s opinion was authored by Judge Newman, who, one has to believe, would have reached a different result if not bound by Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank.

The “broadest claim” of the ‘505 patent recited “a method of providing an intelligent user interface to an online application.”  The patent owner argued that maintaining state information as a user accessed “back” and “forward” buttons in a web browser distinguished from the prior art and thus made the claims recite “significantly more” than the allegedly unpatentable abstract idea.

The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the claim in fact “contains no restriction on how the result is accomplished.”  Moreover, the court noted that “[t]he mechanism for maintaining the state is not described, although this is stated to be the essential innovation.”  Therefore, “the claim is directed to the idea itself—the abstract idea of avoiding loss of data.”

The patent owner further argued that certain dependent claims passed the “abstract idea” threshold.  These depending claims recited combining data from specific sources, or displaying web pages having specific elements.  The court found that “additional limitations of these dependent claims do not add an inventive concept, for they represent merely generic data collection steps or siting the ineligible concept in a particular technological environment.”

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