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Planet Bingo, LLC v. VKGS LLC (dba Video King)
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
- Nonprecedential -
Case No. 2013-1663
Decided: August 26, 2014

In what it called "a straight-forward application of the Supreme Court's recent holding in Alice Corp v. CLS Bank International," the Federal Circuit found a system for managing a game of bingo to be patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101.  Op. at 2.

The patents in question, US 6,398,646 and 6,656,045, generally recite storing a preferred set of numbers for a bingo player, allowing the user to play that set, and tracking the game/payouts.  Claim 1 of the '646 patent claims a system with expressly recited computer components:
1. A system for managing a game of Bingo which comprises:
(a) a computer with a central processing unit (CPU) and with a memory and with a printer connected to the CPU;
(b) an input and output terminal connected to the CPU and memory of the computer; and
(c) a program in the computer enabling:
(i) input of at least two sets of Bingo numbers which are preselected by a player to be played in at least one selected game of Bingo in a future period of time;
(ii) storage of the sets of Bingo numbers which are preselected by the player as a group in the memory of the computer;
(iii) assignment by the computer of a player identifier unique to the player for the group having the sets of Bingo numbers which are preselected by the player wherein the player identifier is assigned to the group for multiple sessions of Bingo;
(iv) retrieval of the group using the player identifier;
(v) selection from the group by the player of at least one of the sets of Bingo numbers preselected by the player and stored in the memory of the computer as the group for play in a selected game of Bingo in a specific session of Bingo wherein a number of sets of Bingo numbers selected for play in the selected game of Bingo is less than a total number of sets of Bingo numbers in the group;
(vi) addition by the computer of a control number for each set of Bingo numbers selected for play in the selected game of Bingo;
(vii) output of a receipt with the control number, the set of Bingo numbers which is preselected and selected by the player, a price for the set of Bingo numbers which is preselected, a date of the game of Bingo and optionally a computer identification number; and
(viii) output for verification of a winning set of Bingo numbers by means of the control number which is input into the computer by a manager of the game of Bingo.
The district court judge granted summary judgment of invalidity as to each claim of the '646 patent and the '045 patent.  The judge reasoned that "each method claim encompasses the abstract idea of managing/playing the game of Bingo" and that the user of a computer "adds nothing more than the ability to manage... Bingo more efficiently."  Op. at 2-3 (citing district court opinion Planet Bingo, LLC v. VKGS LLC, 961 F. Supp. 2d 840 (W.D. Mich. 2013).  Further, the judge found that the system claims employ a computer "only for its most basic functions" including "storing numbers, assigning identifiers, allowing for basic inputs and outputs, printing a receipt, displaying of numbers, and/or matching... for verification.  Op. at 3 (citing district court opinion).

Judge Hughes of the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that there is no meaningful distinction between the method and system claims in the patents.  Both sets of claims recite the same basic processes.  Op. at 4.  After observing that the claims of the patents recited selecting, storing, and retrieving sets of numbers, assigning identifiers, and comparing bingo numbers, the Court noted that "like the claims at issue in Benson, not only can these steps be 'carried out in existing computers long in use', but they also can be 'done mentally'."  Op. at 4.

Planet Bingo argued that, in practice, their systems involved "literally thousands, if not millions of preselected Bingo numbers" and that it would be impossible for the system to be carried out manually.  However, the Court noted that the claims did not require "thousands" or "millions" of sets and instead only required two sets of numbers.  The Court declined to decide "whether a claimed invention requiring many transactions might tip the scales of patent eligibility."  Op. at 5.

The Court found that the claims recited an abstract idea similar to that of Alice and Bilski.  The claims recited methods and systems for managing a game of Bingo, and the Court held that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of "solving a tampering problem and also minimizing other security risks."  Op. at 5 (quoting Planet Bingo's brief).  The Court found this idea similar to that of "risk hedging during consumer transactions" (Bilski) and "mitigating settlement risk in financial transactions" (Alice).

The Court then turned to the computer components of the claims to determiner whether they "contain an 'inventive concept sufficient to transform the claimed abstract idea in a patent-eligible application.'"  Op. at 5 (quoting Alice, citation omitted).  The Court examined the recited computer elements in the claims, dividing the generic computer components from the recited programmed functionality:


Op. at 6.  The Court determined that the claims recite a generic computer implementation of the covered abstract idea.  Id.  Ultimately, "as was the case in Alice, 'the function performed by the computer at each step of the process is purely conventional.'"  Op. at 6 (quoting Alice).

You can read the whole opinion here.

The aftermath of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International continues.  The full scope of the impact the decision will ultimately have on computer and software patent still remains to be seen.
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