Practice Insights in the Wake of Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp.

By Sean Quinn & Peter Glaser

August 25, 2017- In Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp. (Fed. Cir. Aug. 15, 2017), a divided panel at the Federal Circuit determined that U.S. Patent No. 5,953,740 is not directed to an abstract idea.

The decision provides a positive result in the context of software-based inventions, and provides a few insights regarding potential patent drafting strategies.  Namely, the decision highlights the importance of focusing the specification on improvements to hardware components, and bolsters the importance of mentioning technical benefits wherever appropriate.  

The ‘740 patent teaches a memory system having programmable operational characteristics that are capable of being configured for use with multiple different types of processors without causing a reduction in performance ostensibly present in the prior art computer systems.  This enables the memory system to be used efficiently with multiple types of processors, rather than only with a single type of processor.  Further, the ‘740 patent claims a computer memory system comprising a main memory, a cache, and programmable operational characteristics that determine a type of data stored by the cache.

On appeal from a district court’s grant of NVIDIA’s motion to dismiss based on the asserted claims being directed to patent -ineligible subject matter, Judge Stoll, writing for the majority, stated that “[courts] must articulate with specificity what the claims are directed to (citing Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States),” and “ask whether the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea (citing Enfish LLC v. Microsoft).”  (Opinion at 7).

Using Enfish and Thales as guidance, the majority stated that the ‘740 patent’s claims are directed to an improved computer memory system rather than to an abstract idea of categorical data storage and  mentioned that claim 1 of the ‘740 patent requires a memory system “having one or more programmable operational characteristics, said characteristics being defined through configuration by said computer based on the type of said processor,” and “determin[ing] a type of data stored by said cache.”  (Opinion at 9).  Further, the  majority stated that dependent claims 2 and 3, respectively, narrow the memory system’s programmable operational characteristic to storing certain types of data and buffering data from certain sources and that none of the claims recite all types and all forms of categorical data storage.

The majority noted that the ‘740 patent’s specification mentions various technical benefits associated with the memory system, such as permitting different types of processors to be installed with the subject memory system without significantly compromising their individual performance, obviating the need to design a separate memory system for each type of processor, avoiding the performance problems of prior art memory systems, enabling interoperability with multiple different processors, and outperforming prior art memory systems having larger cache sizes.

Analogizing the ‘740 patent to the self-referential table in Enfish and the motion tracking system in Thales, the majority noted that the ‘740 patent’s claims are directed to a technological improvement and focus on a specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities rather than a process that qualifies as an abstract idea for which computers are invoked merely as a tool.  Further, the majority noted that the specification of the ‘740 patent discusses the advantages offered by the proffered technological improvement.  

Juxtaposing the ‘740 patent and the claims in Content Extraction & Transmission LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank and In re TLI Communications LLC Patent Litigation, the majority noted that the ‘740 patent recites an ostensibly new, improved, and more efficient memory system as opposed to claims that are not directed to an improvement in computer functionality and cover abstract ideas operating on generic hardware.

In dissent, Justice Hughes posited that the ‘740 patent fails to describe how the invention’s purpose is achieved, fails to describe how to implement the programmable operational characteristic, requires a third party to supply the innovative programming, and, as such, is not properly described as being directed to an improvement in computer systems.

In response, the majority identified three flaws with Justice Hughes’s posit.  

First, the majority noted that the ‘740 patent includes an appendix having 263 frames of code, and noted that the assumption that the code does not teach a person of ordinary skill in the art was improper at the stage of reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, where all factual inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party.

Second, the majority noted that the question of whether a patent specification teaches a person of ordinary skill in the art how to implement the claimed invention presents an enablement issue under 35 U.S.C. § 112 rather than an eligibility issue under § 101.  Further, the majority noted that the implementation details regarding how to configure a programmable operational characteristic may very well fall within the routine knowledge of persons having ordinary skill in the art and, as such, may have been permissibly omitted.  

Third, the majority noted that Justice Hughes’s assumption that the innovative effort in the ‘740 patent lies in the programming required for a computer to configure a programmable operational characteristic of a cache memory was misplaced.  In support, the majority noted that the assumption was inconsistent with the ‘740 patent’s specification and claims, which expressly state that the improved memory system is achieved by configuring a programmable operational characteristics of a cache memory based on the type of processor connected to the memory system.

In closing, the majority refrained from proceeding to step two of the Alice test because of the finding that the claims of the ‘740 patent are not directed to an abstract idea.   

Going forward, the decision provides some instruction regarding potential patent drafting and prosecution strategies regarding software-based inventions and § 101 issues.  For example, the decision highlights the importance of directing the specification and claims to improvements in computer systems, and the importance of mentioning technical benefits provided by the invention wherever feasible.  Moreover, the case highlights a distinction that can be drawn between enablement and eligibility.

Download Practice Insights in the Wake of Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp.

 

Diversity: An Interview With John Harrity

By Mauricio Velásquez, MBA

August 7, 2017- At a recent Association of Legal Administrators, Washington, D.C. Chapter meeting, John Harrity, Managing Partner of Harrity & Harrity, spoke about his firm’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative. Harrity & Harrity is an innovative boutique patent law firm based in Fairfax, VA. When asked about his firm’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, he explained, “We believe that the ‘practice of law’ is advanced by a more diverse legal team – with diversity of
background, upbringing, education, and perspective comes quality legal innovation. At Harrity & Harrity, we are committed to The Supersized Rooney Rule. This is a hiring practice that shows our firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is something that we take seriously; it’s something we’re very proud of.”

The Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. But there was a flaw – the football team only had to interview at least one minority candidate for an NFL coach opening but could interview an unlimited number of other candidates. “The Rooney Rule is just not going far enough,” Mr. Harrity said, “we wanted to go much further and so we decided that for every opening – attorney or non-attorney – we are committed to interviewing a female or minority candidate for every male, non-minority candidate we interview.”

After his presentation, I asked Mr. Harrity what sort of benefits his current team could expect to see from their diversity efforts. “We are creating and nurturing a workplace culture that is inclusive, values differences, and is authentic, and we want our team to know we really care about them, their well-being, and their future. This will make us the patent law firm employer of choice. We are looking for good people from all backgrounds to help our team grow and to help us become the number one patent law firm.”

There has been recent press about the Mansfield Rule. This rule, introduced in 2016, requires that women and minorities comprise at least 30 percent of the candidates for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and lateral positions in law firms. Again Mr. Harrity countered, “Just like the Rooney Rule, we don’t think the Mansfield Rule goes far enough.”

Sandra Maxey, Chief Diversity Officer at Harrity & Harrity told me that “making the commitment is one thing, executing the everyday work of finding, hiring, and retaining divers talent is the real challenge. We are fully committed to diversity and inclusion at our firm.”

For more information about Harrity & Harrity’s Diversity Program, please visit their website (www.harrityllp.com/diversity). Please join Harrity & Harrity and the ranks of other law firms in implementing the Supersized Rooney Rule.

Mauricio Velásquez, MBA, is President and CEO of the Diversity Training Group based in Herndon, VA. He can be reached at 703-478-9191 or mauriciov@diversitydtg.com. DTG is in our 21st year of operation.

 

Editor’s Note: The Supersized Rooney Rule was created in 2015 by the Diversity Committee at Harrity & Harrity, LLP. For a brief period in 2017, it was known as The Harrity Rule, however, after careful consideration, the name was changed back.

 

 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Patents: A Survey

By Peter Glaser

July 26, 2017- Although many think of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or “drones” as a modern development, UAVs have an extensive history dating back to the original development of lighter-than-air flight.  Initial attempts were limited by the technology of the age – an attempt by the Austrian empire to launch balloon bombs against the Venetian state failed when a shift in wind resulted in the balloon bombs returning toward the Austrian troops.  Early engineering efforts to support unmanned aerial flight included the development of radio-based remote control by Serbian-American Nikola Tesla, an “Aerial Target” developed in 1916-17 by Englishman Archibald Low, and an “AutomaticAirplane” developed in 1916-18 by Americans Elmer Sperry and Peter Cooper Hewitt.  Early attempts often ended in failure – Low’s Aerial Target crashed during all three test flights before being abandoned; Sperry and Hewitt’s Automatic Airplane successfully completed a single successful test flight of 1000 feet, but all completed test airframes were destroyed in subsequent crashes resulting in abandonment.

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John Harrity Speaks About Successful Diversity Initiatives at ALA Diversity Panel

On June 15, 2017, John Harrity, Managing Partner and Diversity Partner of Harrity & Harrity, spoke on a diversity panel hosted by the Association of Legal Administrators. Mauricio Velasquez, of Diversity Training Group, began the program with a presentation on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal field, and lack thereof.

Kendal Tyre, Partner at Nixon Peabody, discussed diversity initiatives within his firm.  At Nixon Peabody, associates, partners, and support staff, are expected to commit 40 hours annually to diversity initiatives.  Diversity initiatives can include meeting with an affinity group, attending diversity seminars, and attending recruiting functions.  These practices can improve firm morale and maintain a positive culture at the firm.

John Harrity’s presentation focused on internal diversity initiatives and the results that the firm has seen since their launch in 2015.  Despite having a diverse support staff, it is difficult to recruit women and minority patent attorneys.  To change this, Harrity & Harrity has taken the following steps to recruit women and minorities. The first step was initiating the Harrity Rule, which is a supersized version of the Rooney Rule. The Harrity Rule means that we are committed to interviewing a female or minority candidate for every male, non-minority candidate we interview for any position at our firm.  The firm began hiring for reduced hours and remote work positions.  The firm also started a 1L Diversity Fellowship in 2016 and launched the first Diversity Summer Workshop in 2017.

Since the launch of our diversity initiatives in 2015, Harrity & Harrity has hired seven new attorneys, four of whom are considered diverse by the EEOC Diversity Scorecard.  Across the firm as a whole, there have been 18 new hires in the past two years, 12 of whom are considered diverse.

John Harrity says of the seminar, “This was a great opportunity to not only talk about our diversity initiatives, but to share ideas and learn new skills from other firms, as well.  I strongly believe that cultivating a highly diverse firm is one of the keys to success, and I look forward to working towards this goal.”

Harrity & Harrity Launches it’s First Annual Diversity Summer Workshop

Harrity & Harrity wrapped up the 2017 Harrity Diversity Summer Workshop on Friday, May 26.  The workshop brought together ten engineering students, law students, and recent law school graduates to learn the skills involved in being a patent attorney.  During the workshop, participants had an opportunity to learn about patent preparation and patent prosecution, as well as receive mentorship from associates and partners at Harrity & Harrity.

Participants also had opportunities to hear perspectives from attorneys in other positions throughout the country.  Teresa Rea, former acting director of the USPTO, met with participants and provided advice about forging a career as a patent attorney, balancing life and work, and government service.  Similarly, Allen Lo, Deputy General Counsel for Patents at Google, and Courtney Holohan, Chief IP Counsel at Accenture, gave tips for succeeding as an attorney and navigating career paths and opportunities.  Participants ended the week receiving hands on advice on crafting their resumes and cover letters, practicing mock interview skills, and traveling with Harrity & Harrity attorneys and support staff to see a Washington Nationals game.

Sandra Maxey, Chief Diversity Officer, says of the workshop, “This week was an incredible success, and we hope to start looking for participants for our 2018 workshop soon to help diverse students with an interest in the patent field gain the skills to succeed as private practice attorneys, patent examiners, and in-house counsel.”

Eli Mazour Launches Clause 8 – An Online Video Interview Series Starting With Paul Michel

April 26, 2017 – Eli Mazour launched a new online video series, Clause 8, that will feature video interviews with prominent members of the IP community. IPWatchdog.com published an article highlighting the details of the first interview. 

His first interview is with former Chief Federal Circuit Judge Michel. During the interview, Judge Michel talks about his personal story and shares his thoughts about America’s patent system, patent eligibility, and the PTAB. He also provides great advice to those in, or thinking about being in, the IP field.

Please check it out and sign up to be notified about future interviews! www.clause8.tv

Is It Really That Obvious? A Tale of Two Decisions

By William Gvoth & Paul Gurzo

April 9, 2017- On January 3, 2017 the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the court) handed down two decisions relating to obviousness under § 103 – In re: Marcel Van Os, Freddy Allen Anzures, Scott Forstall, Greg Christie, Imran Chaudhri, No. 2015-1975 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (Van Os) and In re: Ethicon, Inc., No. 2015-1696 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (Ethicon).  This article will tell the tale of these two decisions as well as highlight some of the questions that these decisions raise.

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Analysis of December 2016 USPTO Subject Matter Eligibility Examples

By Kris Rhu & Paul Gurzo

March 20, 2017- On December 15, 2016, the USPTO published three subject matter eligibility examples focusing on business method claims, which can be found here.  The purpose of these examples is to give guidance on how claims should be analyzed using the 2014 Interim Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility, recent Supreme Court and Federal Circuit decisions, and recent Memorandums published by the USPTO.  These examples seem to indicate that the power of §101 to restrict patentability has been whittled down since Alice and that the USPTO would like to reduce the number of §101 rejections for technological claims in light of court decisions post-Alice.  Below, we describe each example provided by the USPTO, explain the USPTO guidance for each example, and provide practical practice tips that practitioners can use to help reduce or overcome §101 rejections.

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Top Patent Firms for 2016

By Paul Harrity & Anna Yee (Originally published by IP Watchdog)

We compiled a list of the top patent firms that are ranked based on the total number of U.S. utility patents that issued in 2016 where the patent firms were listed on the front of the utility patents. We have included only patent firms that have obtained at least 50 utility patents. We made an attempt to correct for typographical errors. We did not eliminate company legal departments from the list.

For the list from last year see: Top Patent Firms for 2015.

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Alice on Dulany Street: How the PTAB Handles 101 in Ex Parte Appeals

By Eli Mazour & James Bennin

February 15, 2017- “The outlook has become only more grim for appellants who are hoping that the PTAB will overturn a § 101 rejection.”

Alice in WonderlandPreviously, we analyzed ex parte appeal decisions by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) from the year following the Alice v. CLS Bank decision. At the time, we concluded that the PTAB is unlikely to reverse § 101 rejections based on Alice. We decided to revisit this conclusion based on ex parte appeal decisions from December 2016.

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