While there are some signs of an improving landscape for applicants with regard to Section 101 rejections, overall the situation is still not much better than really bad. Appeals to the PTAB are still very difficult, and many examiners are no less deterred in making and maintaining rejections than in previous years.
With those happy thoughts, let’s look at an example application from Target related to an improved user interface “to facilitate purchase of one or more products of the retailer over the Internet.” Obviously there are Section 101 issues with such an invention. What is different about this appeal is that the application was actually successful in convincing the PTAB that the claims were eligible. The problem then came down to Section 103 and the PTAB found the claims obvious. Nevertheless, there is some useful guidance in this case on user interface claims and how they can be set up to move away from Electric Power and toward Core Wireless. We’ve discussed both cases in previous posts in case you need a refresher.
Looking to the claims in Target’s 14/148,598, they are quite specific:
12. A computer-implemented method of rendering an interactive user interface of a retailer to facilitate purchase of one or more products of the retailer over the Internet, the computer-implemented method including the step of: operating one or more computers to serve one or more files to create and display an interactive user interface of a retailer on an electronic display, the interactive user interface including:
a first region including a search input box for receiving a search query of a user, the search input box including a search activation member that when activated by a user will cause a search to be performed for product information corresponding to the search query;
a second region below the first region, the second region having a search results display area for displaying results of the search query of the user, the search results display area being configured to display product information for a plurality of products corresponding to the search query of the user, the product information includes a pictorial image of a product, product pricing and one of a customer rating and a product description, the second region further including at least one of a search sorting control and a display view control, the search sorting control being configured to allow a user to customize order of appearance of the results of the search query displayed in the search results display area based on a plurality of different search sorting criteria, the plurality of different search sorting criteria including at least relevance, product cost and product popularity, the display view control being configured to allow a user to select from a plurality of different views to display the product information in the search results display area, the plurality of different views including a grid view displaying product information in a plurality of rows in the second region and a list view displaying product information in a vertical column with product information for a first product displayed directly above product information for a second product; and,
a third region including an interactive search narrowing control for narrowing search results displayed in the search results display area without entering a new search query in the search input box, the third region being horizontally aligned with the second region and disposed below the first region, the interactive search narrowing control including at least a first search narrowing criteria and a second search narrowing criteria where the first search narrowing criteria is different from the second search narrowing criteria, the interactive search narrowing control including a plurality of interactive product categories including a first interactive product category corresponding to a first product category, a second interactive product category corresponding to a second product category and a third interactive product category corresponding to a third product category, the first product category being different from the second product category and the third product category, the first interactive product category, the second interactive product category and the third interactive product category being configured such that when selected by a user search results displayed in the search results display area are narrowed based on the corresponding product category without the user entering a new search query in the search input box and the first interactive product category, the second interactive product category and the third interactive product category are displayed to a user with initial presentation of search results displayed in the search results display area in response to a user's search query entered in the search input box.
The PTAB provides a useful explanation here as to why the claims were patent eligible that may help user interface applications going forward if claimed in a similar manner. From the decision.
In our view, the claims here more closely resemble the claims in Core Wireless than the claims in Electric Power. In Core Wireless, the Federal Circuit decided that claims directed to "an improved user interface for computing devices," i.e., "a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information in electronic devices," satisfied § 101 under Mayo/Alice step one. Core Wireless, 880 F.3d at 1362---63; see Reply Br. 6 ( quoting Core Wireless, 880 F.3d at 1362---63). The claims here similarly recite a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information and further require particular functionality, e.g., "interactive search narrowing control[ s ]" for narrowing "search results displayed in the search results display area without entering a new search query in the search input box." App. Br. 76-83 (Claims App.).
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We determine that the claims here do not recite limitations falling within the three groupings of abstract ideas specified in the 2019 Guidance. Rather, each independent claim recites "operating one or more computers to serve one or more files to create and display an interactive user interface of a retailer on an electronic display." App. Br. 76, 78, 81 (Claims App.). After the "operating" limitation, each claim specifies a particular arrangement of regions within the interactive user interface and requires that each region have particular functionality. Id. at 76-77, 78-79, 81-82. As a result, the claims recite a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information and further require particular functionality.
As to the Section 103 rejections, the applicant tried a number of strategies but in the end the PTAB was willing to accept the modified combination provided by the Examiner.
While there is hope for GUIs as to Section 101, remember that you still need to have a good position as to obviousness as the PTAB is often willing to accept various combinations of features and modifications of references.