Court Holds Grid Monitoring Patents Invalid; Collecting Info is Unpatentable Abstract Idea

A prior post reported on the litigation between Electric Power Group (EPG) and Alstom Grid.

The lawsuit, filed in the Central District of California, alleged that Alstom’s “PhasorPoint” and “e-terravision” solutions infringed U.S. Patent Nos. 8,060,259, 7,233,843, and 8,401,710 (EPG Patents).

The EPG Patents relate to wide-area real-time performance monitoring systems for monitoring and assessing dynamic stability of an electric power grid.

More particularly, the patents describe and claim systems and methods for performing real-time performance monitoring of an electric power grid by collecting data from multiple data sources, analyzing the data, and displaying the results.

In an opinion issued earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held the EPG Patents invalid under Section 101 of the Patent Act for failing the test for patent eligibility.  The decision affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.

Section 101 defines the subject matter eligible for patenting and, according to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, “contains an important implicit exception:  Laws of natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable” concepts.

Alice set out a two-stage Section 101 inquiry for determining patent eligibility.  Stage one asks whether a patent claim is directed to one of the three non-patent eligible concepts.

If so, at stage two, the court asks whether the particular elements of the claim add enough to “transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.”

According to the Federal Circuit, because the claims of the EPG Patents are directed to collecting and analyzing information and displaying certain results of the collection and analysis, they “fall into a familiar class of claims ‘directed to” a patent-ineligible concept.”

More particularly, information is an intangible, and collecting information is an abstract idea:

[W]e have treated collecting information, including when limited to particular content (which does not change its character as information), as within the realm of abstract ideas.

Furthermore, the court found the patents’ improvement of focusing on specific content to be collected and analyzed not sufficiently innovative:

The advance [the EPG Patents] purport to make is a process of gathering and analyzing information of a specified content, then displaying the results, and not any particular assertedly inventive technology for performing those functions.  They are therefore directed to an abstract idea.

Turning to stage two of the Alice framework, the Federal Circuit did not find anything added to the claims or any limitations that would remove them from the realm of abstract ideas and make them patent-eligible.  Limiting them to the power-grid monitoring space was not enough:

Most obviously, limiting the claims to the particular technological environment of power-grid monitoring is, without more, insufficient to transform them into patent-eligible applications of the abstract idea at their core.

Much of the content of the claims of the EPG Patents, the court observed, was “devoted to enumerating types of information and information sources available within the power-grid environment.”  Merely selecting that information does not “differentiate a process from ordinary mental processes.”

According to the court, the claims did not require any inventive set of components or methods, such as measurement devices or techniques, do not generate new data, and do not invoke any inventive programming.  They also do not require anything other than off-the-shelf, conventional computer network and display technology.

Thus, the court held that the EPG Patent claims “do not state an arguably inventive concept in the realm of application of the information-based abstract ideas” and are therefore invalid.

The Federal Circuit closed its opinion with some tough words from the district court about the EPG Patents that allude to a public policy rationale for invalidating the patents:

[R]ather than claiming “some specific way of enabling a computer to monitor data from multiple sources across an electric power grid,” some “particular implementation,” they “purport to monopolize every potential solution to the problem” – any way of effectively monitoring multiple sources on a power grid.

Some might say that alone is reason to invalidate the patents.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.