A blog about patent, copyright and trademark law in the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of New York

Court Finds "Clever" Invention Claims Patent-Ineligible Subject Matter

In a November 18, 2015 ruling, Judge Colleen McMahon found the plaintiff's patent for routing a long distance call invalid as merely claiming an abstract idea.  Judge McMahon described the claimed invention as:
For example, suppose I am the end user. My service provider assigns me the number 555- 222-1234; I tell the service provider that, when I dial those digits, I want to be connected to my best friend (the recipient), who lives in Ohio, and whose telephone number is 614-555-1213. When I dial the assigned incoming telephone number (555-222-1234) from my personal telephone number (987-654-3210)- which number is recognized via some unclaimed but well known device like Caller ID - the call is forwarded directly to my best friend's home telephone number (614-555-1213). I need not input any additional information in order to get the call routed to its intended recipient.
The Court then noted that:
 The claim is directed to a well-known activity that is almost as old as telephony itself making a long distance telephone call. What plaintiff did was figure out a way to make such a call more cheaply, by dialing a ten digit local number and nothing more. He combined two activities that have long been performed, by humans and by machines -- caller ID and call forwarding- such that the recipient of a local call (area code plus seven digit number) uses some type of caller ID to recognize who the incoming caller is, and then forwards the incoming call to its intended recipient by associating the assigned incoming telephone number with a particular recipient's telephone number. Neither caller ID nor the method by which the call actually gets forwarded to its intended recipient (over what telephone network, using what switching facilities) is claimed. No physical aspect of this process is claimed. What is claimed is the idea of dialing only ten digits, at which point some unspecified intermediary will identify both the caller and the intended recipient of the call and connect them.
Judge McMahon then found that:
 Defendant argues that the claims of the '156 patent are directed to the patent ineligible abstract idea. I agree. Defendant, in an effort to shoehorn this case into as many of the above fact-patterns as it possibly can, says that the abstract idea is "a call routing system that employs a two-dimensional lookup table such that calls are routed to intended recipients based on the call-in number being dialed and the identity of the caller." I think it is simpler to say that the claims in suit are directed to the idea of "connecting two people via long distance telephony using caller ID and call forwarding." However you put it, it is clear, on the basis of the precedents discussed above, that this patent is directed to an abstract idea.
Although the Court characterized the invention as both "clever" and "an elegant solution," Judge McMahon nevertheless concluded that the claimed invention lacked any inventive concept, and merely claimed patent-ineligible subject matter.
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