In the first-ever hearing on a patent issue under the United States International Trade Commission’s (USITC) Pilot Program for early case disposition, ALJ Shaw has found (Inv. No. 337-TA-994) that the asserted claims of the sole patent-in-suit fail to recite patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. As we reported in a previous blog post, the USITC, pursuant to the Pilot Program, had ordered Judge Shaw to hold a hearing and issue a decision on patent eligibility within 100 days from the institution of the investigation.
The case—Certain Portable Electronic Devices and Components Thereof, Inv. No. 337-TA-994—involves, according to the complaint, devices allegedly using the complainants’ patented methods for accessing “media tracks stored on the portable electronic device by navigating through a hierarchical categorization [such as artist name].” Employing the two-stage analysis mandated by the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd v. CLS Bank Intl, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014), Judge Shaw first found the claims to be directed to “the abstract and well-known idea of a hierarchically navigated user interface” applied “to the portable media player computing environment.” Turning to stage two of the Alice analysis, Judge Shaw concluded that the claims did not add an inventive concept but rather recited “routine and conventional activity,” a conclusion that he found “reinforced” by the absence of “detailed description of the specific methodology” for achieving the claimed functionality. Therefore, the claims were held to be patent-ineligible.
The USITC may determine to review the ALJ’s decision if the Complainant petitions for review. All appeals from the USITC’s final determinations in Section 337 investigations are to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It is noteworthy, however, that the USITC has upheld patent-ineligibility findings in the three post-Alice cases that have reached it this year.