The realm of patent ineligible “abstract ideas” arguably grows ever larger by the day, and now encompasses inventions that require movement of shipping containers. How the handling, storage and transportation of heavy metal objects that are the backbone of the shipping industry could plausibly be characterized as lacking presence within the realm of 101, is definitely a head scratcher (check out claims repeated below).
In this case, Plaintiff, Wireless Media Innovations, LLC, is the owner of two patents covering certain systems and methods relating to the monitoring of shipping containers. The Patents are U.S. Patent Number 6,148,291 (“ ‘291 Patent”) and U.S. Patent 5,712,789 (“ ‘789 Patent”). Defendant Maher Terminals and Global were each accused by Plaintiff of operating at least one terminal operating system and operative methods associated therewith to monitor the locations and load statuses of containers at Defendants’ respective terminals. Defendants filed two separate motions to dismiss asserting that Plaintiff’s Patents are ineligible for patent protection under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because they are directed at an abstract idea.
As illustrated below, the Federal Circuit affirmed the invalidation of both patents under 35 U.S.C. Sec. 101 in a per curiam decision without opinion, dated February 8, 2016. Essentially, the Wireless Media Innovations decision leaves standing a decision of the New Jersey district court that essentially precludes patent protection for computer programs adapted for inventory management, even if the claimed management system requires the physical transportation of inventory in the facility. The decision of the New Jersey district court reasoned that the claims of the ‘789 and the ‘291 Patents are directed to the same abstract idea: monitoring locations, movement, and load status of shipping containers within a container-receiving yard, and storing, reporting and communicating this information in various forms through generic computer functions. The district court found that Plaintiff’s arguments that the patent claims are not abstract because they require physical steps and include the use of tangible components is beside the point. According to the district court, the claims merely recite the abstract idea of monitoring the location and load status of containers in a yard. The district court further noted that “the majority of these steps comprise the abstract ideas of the process of monitoring and moving shipping containers and collecting the relevant data as to the location of the shipping containers”, and that “adding routine steps of recording, identifying, and communicating the ID code of a particular container, or moving the container from the receiving area to a vehicle does not transform an otherwise abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter.”
Claim 1 of each respective patent ‘291 and ‘789 are reproduced below:
1. A container monitoring system for accumulating and storing information on shipping containers including container location and container load status, the system comprising:
a receiving area for receiving containers to be monitored by the system, said receiving area within a defined boundary within which containers are to be monitored by the system,
a container entry point at the boundary at which containers are identified by pre-existing identification codes which are recorded at the container entry point,
a switching vehicle for moving containers to and from a receiving area and to and from a facility within the boundary according to instructions received from the facility, and
means for recording information on locations and load status of containers within the defined boundary.
1. A computerized system for monitoring and recording location and load status of shipping containers relative to a facility with an associated yard defined by a boundary within which containers are to be monitored by the system, and a controlled entry point to the boundary, the system comprising:
means for recording identification codes of containers which enter the boundary,
means for communicating and recording information on movements, location and load status of containers within the boundary in response to movement and changes in location and load status of containers made according to instructions received from the facility,
means for generating reports of recorded information on locations and load status of containers within the boundary, and
means for generating reports on container locations and load status relative to designated docks associated with a facility.