ChargePoint Seeks Supreme Court Review of Patent Ineligibility Ruling in ChargePoint, Inc. v. SemaConnect, Inc. Litigation

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

On October 21, 2019, ChargePoint, Inc. (“ChargePoint”) filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. ChargePoint is requesting that the Supreme Court overturn the Federal Circuit’s decision earlier this year to uphold a district court’s dismissal of all claims based on patent ineligibility under 35 USC § 101 in a lawsuit involving ChargePoint and defendant SemaConnect, Inc. (“SemaConnect”).

Background

 The underlying lawsuit alleges infringement by SemaConnect of four patents relating to charging stations for electric vehicles. The four patents described individual charging stations that were networked together to allow site hosts, drivers and utility companies to communicate in real time and address the needs of each constituency. According to ChargePoint, this network connectivity allows the stations to be managed from a central location, allows drivers to locate charging stations in advance, and allows all users to interact intelligently with the electricity grid.

The district court granted SemaConnect’s motion to dismiss, finding all asserted claims to be directed to patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 USC § 101. ChargePoint then appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit first affirmed that “[s]ubject matter eligibility under § 101 may be determined at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage of a case.” It then turned to the Mayo/Alice two-step analysis. At step one, the Federal Circuit emphasized that it is “not enough to merely identify a patent-ineligible concept underlying the claim; [the inquiry is] what the claim is ‘directed to.’” The Federal Circuit determined that the “invention of the patent is nothing more than the abstract idea of communication over a network for interacting with a device, applied to the context of electric vehicle charging stations.” The court agreed with SemaConnect’s assertion that the asserted claims would preempt the entire industry’s ability to use networked charging stations. 

At step two, which involves the search for an inventive concept, the Federal Circuit explained that it must analyze the elements of each claim both individually and as an ordered combination to determine whether the additional elements transform the claim into a patent-eligible application. ChargePoint argued that its network-controlled charging stations create an unconventional solution to technological problems and, therefore, contain an inventive concept that renders the claims “significantly more” than an abstract idea. The Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that network control is itself an abstract idea that cannot form the basis of the inventive concept.

The Supreme Court Petition

In its petition to the Supreme Court, ChargePoint presented the following questions:

  1. Whether a patent claim to a new and useful improvement to a machine or process may be patent eligible even when it “involves” or incorporates an abstract idea.
  2. Whether the Court should reevaluate the atextual exception to Section 101.

In its opinion, the Federal Circuit acknowledged that “the inventors here had the good idea to add networking capabilities to existing charging stations to facilitate various business interactions.” However, the court also found “that is where they stopped, and that is all they patented.” In light of ChargePoint’s petition, we will continue to monitor this case to see whether the Supreme Court decides to weigh in on whether ChargePoint’s claims really do constitute merely a patent-ineligible abstract idea.