Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blachowicz and the unpatentable user interface

departures boardBlachowicz et al/Air Routing International, LLP secured US patent 6,754,581 for a system and method for selecting, compiling, retrieving and displaying computer stored air travel data.

The applicants filed additional claims in a reissue application and appealed to the US Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences following a final rejection from the examiner.  The Board decision issued as Ex Parte Blachowicz et al, No. 2012-000321 (BPAI Dec. 21, 2011).

The reissue application contained (among others) claims 112 and 128.  These two claims were directed to a system for managing air flights.  Claim 112, for example, read as follows:
112. A system for managing air flights, comprising:
a graphical user interface on a display for tasks associated with an air flight;
a graphical user interface on a display ...;
a graphical user interface on a display for auditing taks associated with an air flight.
Claim 28 had a similar format.

It's just software

During prosecution, the examiner objected that each of the claims was defined merely by a software component such as a graphical user interface (GUI).  The GUIs were not claimed in a Lowry format as being recorded on a computer readable medium.  As such, the GUIs could not become structurally and functionally interrelated to the medium.

In other words, it was just software.

There were no structural and functional relationships between the computer programs and the rest of the computer as defined in the claims.

A concrete device

The applicants argued  that each claim requires a concrete device, for example a display.  The claims require the use of a tangible display and therefore are not caught by any of the judicially created exclusions to subject matter.

Both claims were directed to a software component (the GUI) that is deployed on a machine (the display).

Incidental use of a computer

It was not enough.  The Board pulled out CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc. (Case No. 2009-1358) (see my blog post).  No mention of Ultramercial LLC v Hulu LLC (Case No. 2010-1544) (see my blog post).

The applicants did not, according to the Board, advocate that the display imposes meaningful limits on the claimed system of graphical user interfaces. The display, apparently, was just a general purpose machine.  The display was merely incidental to the operation of the graphical user interface. The Board was not persuaded that the claims qualify for eligible subject matter simply by reciting the use of a machine.

The examiner's rejection of claims 112 and 128 was affirmed by the Board.

Photo courtesy of author Lawrie Cate under Creative Commons licence.

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