SOLUTRAN, INC. v. ELAVON, INC., decided July 30, 2019, Statutory Subject Matter

U.S. Patent No. 8,311,945 is directed to processing paper checks by digital capture of data at the point of purchase to promptly process a deposit with scanning and image capture at a different location and later matching the captured data to the captured image (pages 2-4). The PTAB had denied a 101 challenge in a covered business method review, finding that the basic concept of processing paper checks is more akin to a physical process than an abstract idea (page 5). The district court agreed (page 5). The Federal Circuit found that the claims are directed to the abstract idea of crediting a merchants account as early as possible while electronically processing a check (page 7). Extracting and processing information from documents is abstract collection of data (page 8). The claims are directed to basic check processing so the difference becomes the timing of crediting (pages 8-9). Technical capture of information is not improved, so improvement in the way a computer operates is not provided (page 10). Since the abstract idea tracks the claim language, the abstract idea expression is not an overly high level of abstraction (pages 10-11). The recitation of a physical item does not require a different result where the claims recite conventional actions in a generic way and to not improve the underlying technology (page 11). Since the claims are directed to getting the merchants account credited as soon as possible, the location of scanning and comparison does not change that the claims are abstract (pages 11-12). For step 2, being novel and non-obvious does not make the claims not abstract (page 13). Using a general-purpose computer and scanning to perform conventional activities does not amount to an inventive concept (pages 13-14).

Hindsight: The Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court and PTAB, indicating that the processing of physical checks in given sequence and locations had some traction. Since there is a sense of subjectivity in this analysis in picking the level of abstraction and characterizing different aspects of a claim, more technical information and less focus on financial considerations in the specification may help. Emphasizing physical storage and transfer requirements and not financial requirements may have helped. Even with change in emphasis, it may be difficult to patent something fundamentally related to financial processing.