Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corporation

Docket No. 2016-2254

August 15, 2017

Brief summary: DC finding that VM’s US 5,953,740 relating to computer memory systems was directed to ineligible subject matter reversed.

Summary: Visual Memory (VM) appealed DC dismissal of VM’s infringement suit against NVIDIA (FRCP 12(b)(6)). VM’s US 5,953,740, relating to computer memory systems, was found to be directed to ineligible subject matter. The ‘740 systems are described in the FC panel opinion and ‘740 patent as “confer[ring] a substantial advantage by ‘allow[ing] different types of processors to be installed with the [same] subject memory system without significantly compromising their individual performance’” (“The ‘740 patent’s claims reflect these technological improvements.”) Under the two-step Alice test, the DC found “the claims were directed to the ‘abstract idea of categorical data storage,’ which humans have practiced for many years” (Alice step one) and “no inventive concept because the claimed computer components-a main memory, cache, bus, and processor-were generic and conventional” (Alice step two). The FC panel explained it “review[s] de novo any determination that a claim is directed to patent-ineligible subject matter” (Enfish, FC 2016). It also explained that “laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patent-eligible because they represent ‘the basic tools of scientific and technological work’” and protecting such “ideas could thwart the purpose of the patent laws because it ‘might tend to impede innovation more than it would tend to promote it’” (Myriad, US 2013; Mayo, US 2012; Alice, US 2014). Under Alice’s step one, the FC “must articulate with specificity what the claims are directed to” (Thales, FC 2017) and “ask whether the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea” (Enfish (self-referential table for computer database eligible for improving “computer functionality itself”); Thales (claims to “unique configuration of inertial sensors and the use of a mathematical equation” eligible as “non-conventional manner to reduce errors”)). The FC panel determined the ‘740 claims are not directed to an abstract idea since the “claims focus on a ‘specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities’” and not an “‘abstract idea’ for which computers are invoked merely as a tool” (“the specification discusses the advantages offered by the technological improvement”). This is unlike Content Extraction (FC 2014 (ineligible as “directed to the ‘basic concept of data recognition and storage’”) and In re TLI (FC 2016 (ineligible as “directed to the abstract idea of classifying and storing digital images in an organized manner”) on which the DC relied (the Content and TLI claims “were not directed to an improvement in computer functionality”). The FC panel opinion countered Judge Hughes’ dissent’s “black box” and enablement-related arguments, and its “‘innovative’ effort” assumption (“inconsistent with the specification itself”). That “the concept of categorical data storage underlies the ‘740 patent’s claims” was found not be “enough to doom a claim under § 101” since “all inventions at some level embody, use, reflect, rest upon, or apply laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas” (Mayo). The DC decision was therefore reversed.

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