Federal Circuit: Crowdsourcing Patent Directed to Invalid, Abstract Idea
A pro se applicant appealed a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) decision affirming the rejection of the application's claims. The application entitled, "Method and System for Developing and Evaluating and Marketing Products Through Use of Intellectual Capital Derivative Rights" was directed to an online collaborative content management system for online product development, as described by the applicant.
The PTAB determined that in spite of the claims reciting an online system, data structure, server and user devices, the claims were directed to soliciting and evaluating product development contributions received from participants and compensating participants according to that evaluation – in other words, crowdsourcing. Looking more closely at the claimed elements, the applicant failed to persuade the PTAB that the claimed elements were an improvement in the computer or its components' functionality, or otherwise changed how the device functioned.
The Federal Circuit's Section 101 Analysis
At step one of the Alice inquiry, the applicant argued that the PTAB ignored the "built-in capabilities" pertaining to timing and measurement and an improved data structure model. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit disagreed. Despite the application's expansive language and recitation of servers and databases, the application was "at bottom, directed to the collection, organization, grouping, and storage of data using techniques such as conducting a survey or crowdsourcing." The court agreed with the PTAB and found that the claim was directed to a method of organizing human activity – "a hallmark of claims directed to abstract ideas."
The court addressed the claimed server and database and found that they were "merely tools used for organizing human activity, and are not an improvement to computer technology." The applicant's arguments to the contrary were "nothing more than conclusory statements unmoored from specific claim language."
The Federal Circuit again agreed with the PTAB at step two. The claims recite an "online system," "server," "data structure" and "user device," but this was all generic technology for implementing the claimed abstract idea. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB's decision on ineligibility.
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The Federal Circuit discussed claim 221 of the application, which recites:
A system corresponding to an online collaborative content management system and operating with a data structure that enables developing and evaluating and marketing products based on derivative rights, comprising:
a server, and user devices, which user devices each corresponds to a user of the system, the server containing a data structure and data, which data structure describes associations of data records and of the data contained in the server, which data includes a defined desired outcome and content items and at least one entitlement option, which entitlement options each defines a conditional entitlement, said described associations indicating at least:
a) a plurality of sets of data records, which data records in each of the sets are grouped into a plurality of comprised subsets of data records, which subsets each comprises at least one data record, which data records from the subsets each identifies a content item by containing a content item or by being otherwise associated to a content item, and consequently each of the subsets identifying at least one content item; and
b) one entitled grouping, which entitled groupings each represents a grouping of at least one set from the sets, each entitled grouping being associated with at least one of the entitlement options;
the system being configured to at least:
communicate, from the server to each user device from a plurality of the user devices, the defined desired outcome and at least one description of a plurality of given sets from the sets from the described data structure associations and of the subsets of data records comprised in the given sets, which subsets of data records identify content items, at least one of the given sets from each of the descriptions corresponding to at least one of the sets comprised in at least one of the entitled groupings;
receive, in the server, responses from multiple user devices from the plurality of the user devices, and identify in the server as contributions a plurality of the received responses, and store the contributions in the server,
a) which received responses result from each user device from the multiple user devices receiving at least one of the descriptions of a plurality of given sets and using the described given sets to at least: (i) offer to its user an arrangement of content items by using and conveying, in the arrangement, the data structure associations of the described given sets and of their subsets of identified content items, and (ii) associate at least one discriminating user rating with at least one of the subsets comprised in each of a plurality of the described given sets, each of the subsets associated with a rating representing a rated subset, and each user rating being indicative of a comparative user evaluation of how well a given subset of identified content items relates to the desired outcome when compared to other subsets within the same described given set, and each user rating being indicative of at least a user selection or a user tagging of one of the rated subsets of identified content items, and (iii) generate a response and communicate the generated response to the server which generated response describes at least one of the rated subsets with its associated rating based on the received descriptions of given sets,
b) which responses are identified in the server as contributions by each at least describing one or a plurality of rated subsets that corresponds, according to the described data structure associations, to one or a plurality of the subsets comprised in one of the entitled groupings, and which user devices, from which the responses identified as contributions were received, each represents a contributor device of the system;
create in the server one or more contribution options, which contribution options each defines an association between a given one of the contributions and one of the entitlement options associated with one of the entitled groupings that comprises, according to the described data structure associations, one or a plurality of subsets which corresponds to the one or a plurality of the rated subsets described in the given one of the contributions;
communicate from the server, to each of at least one of the contributor devices from which at least one of the contributions was received, at least one of the contribution options that associates the received at least one of the contributions with one of the entitlement options;
generate in the server at least one insight grouping, which insight groupings each represents a grouping of one or of a plurality of the subsets comprised in a given one of the entitled groupings based on (i) the number of described rated subsets that were received in the contributions and that correspond, according to the described data structure associations, to the one or plurality of the subsets comprised in the given one of the entitled grouping and (ii) the ratings associated with each of the described rated subsets that were received, and
classify in the server, as valuable product information, each of one or of a plurality of the content items identified by at least one of the subsets from at least one of the insight groupings;
detect in the server at least one contribution option[s] that each associates one of the entitlement options with one of the contributions that describes one or a plurality of rated subsets which corresponds, according to the described data structure associations, to one or to a plurality of the subsets from one of the insight grouping; receive in the server, from a given one of the user devices, a request for granting a given one of the entitlement options that is associated with one of the contributions defined in one of the contribution option communicated to a given one of the contributor devices, which request is indicative that the given one of the user devices was previously communicated, from the server or from the given one of the contributor devices, the one of the contribution options;
grant in the server the given one of the entitlement options by validating that the given one of the entitlement options was previously detected in the server, and communicate said grant to the given one of the user devices, said grant and said communicate being executed:(i) without restriction, or (ii) after one or more granting conditions are detected, in the server, to have been met.
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