As discussed above, the Alice v CLS Bank decision of the United States Supreme Court has the potential to preclude patent protection for many software and computer-implemented inventions and to invalidate many issued patents for those inventions.  The Court gave only the sketchiest guidance on how to determine when a claimed invention is too abstract.
The lower courts now are applying the Alice decision to computer-related inventions unrelated to old business methods.   This month, the Central District of California decided Planet Blue v Activision, which involved patents related to automating the process of synchronizing movement of the lips of an animated character with a pre-recorded sound track.  The Planet Blue invention was new and solved a real technical problem in computer animation.

The trial court decided that the Planet Blue patent claims nonetheless did not address patentable subject matter under Alice because the claims of the patent were, effectively, too broad.  The court identified what was new about the invention as included in the claims; namely, using ‘rules, rather than artists,’ to set particular parameters for lip movement as the animated character transitioned from one sound to another.  Although there was considerable detail in the claims, that detail was old and the claims did not include specifics of the rules.  The court concluded that the claims stated an abstract idea and effectively said ‘apply it,’ which Alice determined was not patentable.

If the Planet Blue approach becomes the law of the land (it’s not yet), then software patents likely will become very narrow.  This area of the law is in rapid flux and we anticipate that the Planet Blue decision will be reviewed by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

— Robert Yarbrough, Esq.