Rigshospitalet v. Shire-NPS Pharmaceuticals, Inc. f/k/a NPS Pharmaceuticals, Inc. et al. (D. Mass. 21-cv-11602).

  • September 29, 2021

In 2021, Riggs filed suit in the District of Massachusetts, accusing Cengage of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,299,067  The ‘067 patent was directed to the provision of training through networks to computers and portable hand-held devices such as smart phones, as well as logging and certifying such training and authenticating users who receive the training.   Judge Sorokin granted Cengage’s motion to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), finding the patent claimed ineligible subject matter.  Riggs appealed this determination, and the Federal Circuit has now affirmed the decision.

The parties agreed that claim 1 of the ‘067 patent was representative of all the asserted claims.  The Federal Circuit determined that claim 1 was “directed to a method of managing training completed remotely at a handheld device comprising the steps of (1) receiving data related to a user and training taken by the user, (2) identifying and authenticating the user, and (3) determining and recording the user’s training status.”  The Court reviewed the dismissal de novo (as First Circuit law requires for a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal and as Federal Circuit law demands for a § 101 determination, which is a matter of law).  The  Court found that the claim was directed to the abstract mental process of managing training that is provided remotely, determining that the steps of the claim merely involved receiving information that a user completed a training and updating a record of that user’s training.  The claim recited steps that a human being could readily perform using paper and pen, which means it is directed to an ineligible, abstract idea. 

The Federal Circuit further found that the claims lack the inventive step required by Alice’s two-step analysis.  It noted that a claim fails step two when the sole additional element (as here) to the abstract idea is the direction to perform it on a computer.  The specification of the patent reinforced the idea that the implementation of the method failed to add patentable subject matter, stating that the method would be performed using “well-understood, routine conventional components” such as “wireless, data-enabled hand held computing devices well known in the art.”  The specification went on to describe other ways of implementing the method, describing each minimally and stating that they were well-known in the art.  Accordingly, the claims were deemed ineligible.

Finally, the panel reiterated that patent eligibility can be determined at the motion to dismiss stage, when there are no factual allegations that, taken as true, would prevent resolving the eligibility question as a matter of law.  Where the specification admits to the additional claim elements as being well-understood, routine and conventional, it is “difficult, if not impossible, for a patentee to show a genuine dispute.” 

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