The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently added to the ever-changing tapestry of software and computer-related patent decisions. In Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp., the Federal Circuit found that patent claims relating to a computer memory system did not cover an abstract idea. Under the current test from the Supreme Court’s Alice decision for determining patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101, because the claims did not cover an abstract idea, the next step concerning whether an inventive concept is “significantly more” than an abstract idea did not need to be addressed.
The specific claim language being analyzed in the case was directed to “[a] computer memory system connectable to a processor and having one or more programmable operational characteristics…”. Further, the claim language describes these “characteristics being defined through configuration by said computer based on the type of said processor.” Therefore, because of the programmable operational characteristics, the computer memory system of the patent in question, U.S. Pat. No. 5,953,740, can be used with different types of processors.
The Federal Circuit found that “multiple benefits flow from the ’740 patent’s improved memory system.” More specifically, “a memory system with programmable operational characteristics defined by the processor connected to the memory system permits ‘different types of processors to be installed with the subject memory system without significantly compromising their individual performance.’” Moreover, the Federal Circuit found:
[I]n addition to enabling interoperability with multiple different processors, the ’740 patent specification explains that the selective definition of the functions of the cache memory based on processor type results in a memory system that can outperform a prior art memory system that is armed with “a cache many times larger than the cumulative size of the subject caches. Id.
In summary, the Federal Circuit’s “review of the ’740 patent claims demonstrates that they are directed to an improved computer memory system, not to the abstract idea of categorical data storage.” While it is difficult to determine whether Visual Memory will have a more lasting effect on the patent landscape, at the very least, it makes clear that novel and improved computer memory systems are eligible to be patented. Going forward, applicants will still have to carefully navigate the software and computer-related patent landscape, as this decision may prove to be somewhat narrower than preferred by those in this particular field.