September 28, 2020

Federal Circuit: Patent Directed to Physician to Patient Communication System Abstract, Invalid

Holland & Knight Section 101 Blog
Anthony J. Fuga
Section 101 Blog


Angadibir Singh Salwan is the named inventor on a patent application titled "Physician to Patient Network System for Real-Time Electronic Communications & Transfer of Patient Health Information," which disclosed a private and secure infrastructure for independently practicing physicians and patients for real-time electronic communication and transfer of patient health information. The application further contemplated the secure exchange of electronic medical records and billing data.

During prosecution of Salwan's application, the examiner rejected the pending claims as directed to patent-ineligible subject matter under Section 101. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) affirmed the examiner's rejections and denied Salwan's request for a rehearing. In response, Salwan filed a district court action against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the Eastern District of Virginia under 35 U.S.C. § 145, which allows a dissatisfied application to file suit in the Eastern District of Virginia.

The USPTO moved for summary judgment, and the district court agreed that PTAB had properly concluded that Salwan's application was directed to ineligible subject matter. Salwan responded by seeking recusal of the judge and seeking reassignment to a new judge based on alleged false statements in the court's opinion. The district court denied the recusal motion, and Salwan appealed both issues to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit's Section 101 Discussion

The Federal Circuit compared Salwan's application at issue with an earlier, related application, which the Federal Circuit had already found to be patent ineligible. Comparing the claims of the earlier application with the application at issue here revealed that "the claims at issue in both applications read on organizing human activity with respect to medical information, i.e., abstract processes that can be performed by an individual."

At step two of its analysis, the Federal Circuit found that claimed generic elements are not enough to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention: the "claims merely recite well-known processes related to organizing patient health, insurance, and billing information, and add the requirement of implementing them on a computer."

The Federal Circuit's Recusal Decision

The Federal Circuit first discussed 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), which states that "any justice, judge, or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." The court noted, however, that judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion.

Salwan contended that the district court made six false statements in deciding the summary judgment motion, which warrant the judge's recusal. The Federal Circuit disagreed. "A judge's opinion based on the record does not constitute a basis for a recusal motion." The court noted that while Salwan may disagree with the district court's characterization of the record, that does not mean they're "false statements." The Federal Circuit's agreement with the district court's rulings "firmly underscores this conclusion," and the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's decision.

The case is AngadbirSingh Salwan v. Andrei Iancu, (Fed. Cir. Sept. 8, 2020). The representative claim recites:

An EMR computing system for exchanging patient health information among healthcare user groups or the healthcare user group and patients over a network, the system comprising:

a central computer program embodied in a computer readable medium or embodied in a central server and a central database storing patient EMR data for access by authorized users, the central computer program configured to:

communicate through at least one computer program, which includes EMR and billing software, with at least one private database for a healthcare user group, the database comprising at least patient EMR and billing data, and accounting data confidential for the healthcare user group;

receive from the at least one private database EMR data including at least one of health problems, medications, diagnosis, prescriptions, notes written by a healthcare service provider, diagnostic test results or patient accounts data for storing in the central database, wherein the healthcare user group's confidential accounts data including one or more insurance companies accounts data, is not received;

selectively retrieve the stored EMR data, generate one or more healthcare reports including one or more of health problem list, medication list, diagnoses report, prescription, diagnostic test result report, patient billing report; and

transmit one or more healthcare reports to an authorized healthcare user group or the authorized patient for reviewing.

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