The pending appeal in AlexSam, Inc. v. HealthEquity, Inc., Docket No. 20-00146 (Fed. Cir. 2020), offers some interesting questions for the Federal Circuit.
As Patently-O readers are aware, lots of patent infringement lawsuits have been ending very quickly – with courts ruling that plaintiffs patents are directed to ineligible subject matter and therefore cannot support a patent infringement claim. In this case, the patentee AlexSamwanted to ensure that it stated-a-claim and so added page-after-page to its initial complaint explaining inventiveness of its asserted US6000608. (Excerpt below).
Despite the full explanation, the defendant (HealthEquity) moved to dismiss on eligibility grounds and as a matter of law. The district court sided with the patentee and denied the motion to dismiss — finding that the complaint included “plausible factual allegations” sufficient to avoid dismissal at such a preliminary stage.
[E]ven if the claims here are directed toward an abstract idea, the court cannot find as a matter of law at this early stage of the litigation that the claims are ineligible for patent protection. . . .
[The court then found that none of the the individual claim limitations included anything new, and then continued:] When considering the elements as “an ordered combination,” however, the court cannot find as a matter of law that the claims reflect “conventional, routine, and well understood applications in the art.” To be sure, the ordered combination of elements described by the claims may seem conventional today, but inventiveness is determined “at the time of the patent,” Berkheimer—not a generation later. The court finds it plausible that, even if each element of the claims was itself conventional, the ordered combination and specific arrangement of these conventional pieces described by claims was “non-conventional and nongeneric” at the time of invention. Bascom (holding that “an inventive concept can be found in the non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces”).
The district court case is ongoing, and the defendant does not have a right to immediate appeal. However, it went ahead and filed its petition for interlocutory appeal. That petition was supported by the district court who explained:
If this court’s ruling is erroneous, it would welcome reversal by the Federal Circuit. It is likely that such a ruling would promptly and efficiently resolve litigation not only in this case, but also in two other district courts where similar lawsuits and “nearly identical” motions to dismiss are pending. The court accordingly finds that this “order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).
Id. Apparently, the District Court’s call for immediate appeal was sua sponte.
Although Section 1292(b) allows a judge to certify an interlocutory question for immediate appeal, the appellate panel need not actually hear the appeal. Rather, the court of appeals is then given “its discretion” to permit an appeal.
Here, HealthEquity petitioned for interlocutory appeal [HealthEquity Petition Interlocutory Appeal], and the Federal Circuit has ordered briefing from AlexSam within 7 days.
AlexSam, Inc. is directed to respond to the petition no later than 7 days from the date of filing of this order. Any reply in support of the petition is due 3 days thereafter.
Fed. Cir. Docket.
In a prior case, Judge Mayer would have held some of the claims of the asserted patent ineligible. Alexsam, Inc. v. IDT Corp., 715 F.3d 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2013). In that case, Judge Mayer dissented — apparently the eligibility issue had not been appealed and so the other two judges did not see it appropriate as the decision point.