Dropbox’s Patents Invalidated for Patent-Ineligible Subject MatterJune 24, 2020

On June 19, 2020 The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (hereinafter the “Federal Circuit”) affirmed a district court’s ruling that Dropbox’s three patents claim abstract ideas and further provide no inventive concept transforming the abstract idea into patentable subject matter.

Dropbox and their wholly owned subsidiary, Orcinus Holdings, (hereinafter referred to in the collective as “Dropbox”) sued Synchronoss Technologies alleging infringement of three of their patents. The patents at issue relate to “Secure Delivery of Information in a Network,” “File Upload Synchronization,” and a “System and Method for Personal Data Backup for Mobile Customer Premises Equipment.” Synchronoss moved to dismiss, arguing that all three patents are invalid as patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 USC § 101. The district court agreed and held all three patents invalid, and Dropbox appealed.

The Federal Circuit reviewed the claimed subject matter under the Alice two-step framework for determining patent-eligible subject matter. The first Alice step is to determine whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept such as an abstract idea. If so, the analysis proceeds to the second Alice step and examines the elements of the claim to determine whether the claim contains an inventive concept sufficient to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible application.

The Federal Circuit agreed that the first patent, directed to associating a security level with a data resource, associating a security level with a mode of identification of a user, and then ensuring that the user’s security level is sufficiently high to meet the security level to access the data resource is an abstract idea. The Federal Circuit stated that it is not enough that the patent solves a technical problem, the patent must describe how to solve the problem in a manner that encompasses something more than the “principle in the abstract” and that solution must be in the claim. Further, the Federal Circuit found that the claims are not transformed into a patent-eligible application because the claims recite the application of an abstract idea using conventional and well-understood techniques specified in broad, functional language, which is not enough to pass the second Alice step.

The second patent is directed to combining a user interface of an interactive connection (like a website) with a file upload connection such that data is easily uploaded, the claimed advance is generating a single session ID linking the interactive connection and the data transfer connection and synchronizing the operation of said connections. The Federal Circuit emphasized that to be patent-eligible, software inventions must make “non-abstract improvements to existing technological processes and computer technology,” and that the patent must actually claim the technological solution. Here, neither the single session ID nor the synchronizer were considered by the court to be non-abstract or a technological solution. The Federal Circuit found the claims to only relate to the functional result of the claimed abstractions, and further found that the claims do not recite an inventive concept. Just as above with the first patent, the claims merely apply an abstract idea using conventional and well-understood techniques.

The third patent is directed to uploading and downloading data from a mobile device to a server by way of a mobile network. Again, the Federal Circuit found the patent to contain generalized steps carrying out generic computer functions and thus an abstract idea. The claims were also found not inventive due to the same generic-ness. The technological advance is asserted by Dropbox to be a unified tag and data structure, however the Federal Circuit found “formatting,” “tagging,” “transmitting,” and “retrieving” to be generalized steps and conventional computer activity. And while the result may allow wireless backup of cellphone data, the claims merely invoke generic processes and machinery. No inventive concept was found in the claims, even if, as asserted, the patent’s data structure allows the data to be formatted in a way that makes data transfer reliable and efficient. Formatting data into fields and tagging said data does not describe an inventive data structure according to the Federal Circuit.

Julie L. Spieker is an Intellectual Property Attorney in the MVS Biotechnology & Chemical Practice Group as well as the Mechanical and Electrical Practice Group. To learn more, visit our MVS website , or contact Julie directly via email .

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