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Federal Circuit Affirms Dismissal of “Process Automation” Patent Infringement Suit

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By Zach Schroeder and David G. Barker

On March 15, 2022, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Eastern District of Texas’s dismissal of a patent infringement complaint because the asserted patent claims were directed to process automation and therefore not eligible for patent protection under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Repifi Vendor Logistics sued Intellicentrics for infringing its ‘268 patent “directed to a method of credentialing visitors to an access-controlled environment by an access administrator.”  The typical process of credentialing visitors involves a live receptionist collecting information, verifying information, and creating disposable visitor passes.  Repifi’s patent included claims for automating this process via electronic visitor passes, which controlled access to certain areas based upon preauthorized access codes and GPS location derived from cellphones.

Intellicentrics moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) claiming that Repifi’s process automation patent was not patent eligible under Section 101.  The district court granted Intellicentrics’ motion and Repifi appealed.

To determine whether a claim is eligible under Section 101, the Supreme Court has set forth the two-step Alice/Mayo test (see previous discussion here).  At step one, courts determine whether the claimed invention is directed to an “ineligible concept.”  If so, courts review the claim elements, both individually and as ordered combinations, to determine whether there is an “inventive concept” or whether the elements “transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.”  In computer programming, this analysis can be complicated when considering the differences between improvements in computer functionality and claims directed to computerized tasks previously handled without a computer “because such automation is itself an abstract idea.” 

The district court determined that the ’268 patent was directed to “the abstract idea of credentialing visitors and checking them in and out of an access-controlled environment” and that there was no “inventive concept” sufficient to allow patentability.  On appeal, Rapifi argued that the claimed method is a “technological solution” obviating the need for a receptionist, printer, and paper.  Rapifi further argued that Alice step two is met because the electronic visitor pass constitutes an “inventive concept.”  The Federal Circuit disagreed, finding that “credentialling processes are a well-established business practice, a method for organizing human activity, and an abstract idea.”  The Federal Circuit also affirmed the lack of any “inventive concept,” finding the specification acknowledged electronic visitor passes are “well-known device[s]” and the claims “merely recite the use of [their] conventional abilities.”