Electric car smart grid charging patent deemed invalid. CHARGEPOINT v. SEMACONNECT

Electric car smart grid charging patent deemed invalid. CHARGEPOINT v. SEMACONNECT

A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted to the inventor of a new invention.  An inventor obtains a patent in the United States by filing a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  A patent examiner at the Untied Stats Patent and Trademark Office will review the patent application.  If the patent application meets all the requirements, the inventor will be granted a patent on the invention.  A patent grants the inventor the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or import the invention in the United States.  If someone other than the patent owner attempts to exercise one of these exclusive rights that can be considered patent infringement.

A patent application is a complex document that must conform to requirements imposed by various laws, regulations and court precedent.  One of the requirements that is evaluated in a patent application is whether the invention is related to patent eligible subject matter.  Section 35 U.S.C. 101, defines patent eligible subject matter as any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement of one of those things.  There are then several judicially created exceptions to Section 35 U.S.C. 101 that will disqualify an invention from patent protection.  The judicially created exceptions are laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.

Because the requirements are so complex, and because the requirements can change over time, a patent can be deemed invalid even after it is granted.  A granted patent can be invalidated because a patent examiner misinterpreted a requirement or because the law changed after the patent was granted.

A case which illustrates a patent being invalidated because it was related to ineligible subject matter is CHARGEPOINT, INC., v. SEMACONNECT, INC., 2018-1739 (C.A.F.C. 2019).  The plaintiff in this case is the owner of several patents that relate to charging stations for electric vehicles.  The invention described in the patents uses networked charging stations to load balance electrical supply based on demand.  Electric cars use the local electrical grid to charge their batteries.  The local electrical grid has cyclical periods of high and low demand for electricity which correspond to higher and lower electrical prices.  The invention described in ChargePoint’s patents capitalize on the price difference in electricity by charging vehicles during periods of low demand and discharging the batteries to supply the electric grid during times of high demand. A feature of the invention was to allow consumers to communicate via networked charging stations so that their electric vehicle would have an appropriate battery charge when the vehicle was needed. ChargePoint sued SemaConnect for patent infringement in December 2017.  The district court held that the eight patent claims asserted by ChargePoint were ineligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. § 101 and dismissed the complaint.  ChargePoint appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision.  The Federal Circuit note that when the problem identified in the patent is reviewed (i.e. using electric cars to load balance electrical grid demands), as well as the way the patent describes the invention, the specification suggests that the invention described in 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. Even a specification full of technical details about a physical invention may nonetheless conclude with claims that claim nothing more than the broad law or abstract idea underlying the claims, thus preempting all use of that law or idea.  In the case of ChargePoints patents, the claims were not specific enough to make them patent eligible subject matter.

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