HOUSTON – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a lower court’s ruling for Google LLC in a dispute over three spreadsheet patents asserted by Data Engine Technologies LLC, a unit of Acacia Research Corp.
The appellate court ruled, in a precedential decision, that a Delaware court was incorrect when it tossed out the claims against Google for its use of the patented notebook-tab type improvements to spreadsheets that made them more user-friendly. Google argued the patents were invalid because they only covered abstract ideas, which can’t be patented. But the appellate court said the three patents provided “a highly intuitive, user-friendly interface with familiar notebook tabs for navigating the three-dimensional worksheet environment.”
“It is gratifying to see the Federal Circuit recognize the validity of the spreadsheet patents, especially under the stricter guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court in Alice v. CLS Bank,” said Amir Alavi, a partner at AZA or Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. He represents Data Engine Technologies in the appeal along with AZA associates Ifti Ahmed and Alisa Lipski.
Data Engine Technologies sued Google in 2014, alleging that Google Sheets infringed the spreadsheet patents. The spreadsheet tabs were invented in 1992 and won many awards for their innovation. Google argued they were just like tabs in notebooks or file folders, but the appellate court said comparing a patent to a real-world analogy does not negate the patent-eligibility of the invention.
This case was covered by the national legal news service Law360 in “Fed. Circ. Undoes Google’s Alice Win On Spreadsheet Patents” (subscription required).
The case is Data Engine Technologies LLC v. Google LLC, number 2017-1135, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The appellate court said the Delaware court was correct in invalidating a fourth patent that allowed tracking of spreadsheet changes.
Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by Chambers USA 2018 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for seven years running including 2019; and previously by Law360 as a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000.