Alice in Patentland

Alice in Patentland: Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corporation

PlaintiffVisual Memory LLC
DefendantNVIDIA Corporation
Case15-789-RGA
CourtDistrict of Delaware
JudgeRichard G. Andrews (United States District Judge)
MotionMotion to Dismiss
DecisionGRANTED
Decision DateMay 27, 2016

Background – Visual Memory LLC filed a Patent Infringement lawsuit against NVIDIA Corporation on September 8, 2015. NVIDIA challenged Visual Memory LLC’s U.S. Patent No. 5,953,740 stating that its claims are directed to patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Technology Involved: The US’740 patent discloses a computer memory system connectable to a processor and having programmable operational characteristics based on characteristics of the processor. The memory system includes a plurality of caches and a main memory connected to a bus. The processor and another bus master are also connected to the bus. A programmable characteristic of a first of the caches is whether or not it holds only code data. A second of the caches buffers data writes to the main memory, and a programmable characteristic of the second cache is whether or not it buffers data solely from the bus master. More particularly, it relates to memory systems which are designed to reduce memory access time.

Trial Proceedings – The court conducted a 2-step Alice test to check the validity of US’740.

Step 1: Determining whether the asserted claims are directed to an abstract idea.

Finding: NVIDIA contended that the claims of the ‘740 patent are directed to the abstract idea of categorical data storage. They also argued that the abstract idea of categorical data storage is at the “heart” of the claims, although they recite limitations pertaining to cache and memory, code and non-code data, and memory sources.

Visual Memory LLC argued that claims which “improve the functioning of a computer itself’ are patent eligible. They insisted that there were claim construction issues that needed to be decided before resolving the motion, specifically citing the “programmable operational characteristic” term. However, they did not offer a proposed construction, nor did they give an explanation of how the term’s construction would impact the§ 101 analysis.

Visual Memory LLC also argued that NVIDIA had not provided “clear and convincing” evidence of invalidity, and therefore resolution of the motion should require further factual development. The court explained that as patent eligibility is a matter of law, the clear and convincing standard “has no application”.

Plaintiff also argued that the claims of the ‘740 patent are not directed to an abstract idea because “the claimed solution is clearly rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks.” The court explained that the prohibition against patenting abstract ideas cannot be circumvented by attempting to limit the use of the idea to a particular technological environment.”

The court rejected all of plaintiff’s arguments and decided that the ‘740 patent claims, “considered in their entirety,” are directed to the abstract concept of categorical data storage.

Step 2: Determining the presence of “inventive concept” i.e., an element or combination of elements sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the abstract idea itself.

Finding: NVIDIA contended that the claims of the ‘740 patent recite generic computer components, and amount to nothing more than “applying the abstract idea on a computer”. Visual Memory LLC argued that claims which “improve the functioning of the computer itself’ are patent eligible. They asserted that the claims are necessarily rooted in technology. Additionally, they argued that “the combination of elements results in an improved computer system, and thus the claims are patent eligible.”

The court explained that determining that a patent is necessarily tied to a computer- or Internet-centric problem does not resolve the question of patent eligibility. It also explained that the claimed computer functionality can only be described as generic or conventional as they recite generic computer components, specifically a “main memory” and a “cache” connectable via a “bus” to a “processor”. The specification acknowledges that these components were known in the art and the functions of receiving and storing data, are certainly ‘”well-understood, routine, conventional activities’ previously known in the industry”. The court decided that the claims attempted to limit the abstract idea of categorical data storage to a particular technology environment, which was insufficient proof of inventive concept. Additionally, the court considered the “programmable operational characteristic” a simple generic concept which determined a type of data stored in the cache and that it could not supply an inventive concept without explaining the “mechanism” for “how this is accomplished”.

Conclusion: Defendant NVIDIA contended that all nine claims were “substantially similar and linked to the same abstract idea,” and therefore all claims could be invalidated based on representative claim 1. The court agreed and concluded that the claims of the ‘740 patent were directed to an abstract idea and lack an inventive concept. The ‘740 patent was therefore rendered invalid and the motion to dismiss was GRANTED.

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