from the United States District Court for the District of
Delaware in No. 1:14-cv-01115-LPS, Chief Judge Leonard P.
Benjamin F. Foster, Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi &
Mensing PC, Houston, TX, argued for plaintiff-appellant.
Represented by Amir H. Alavi, Iftikahr Ahmed, Alisa A.
Joseffer, King & Spalding LLP, Washington, DC, argued for
defendant-appellee. Represented by Amelia Grace Yowell;
Jonathan K. Waldrop, Marcus Barber, John Walter Downing,
Darcy L. Jones, Kaso-witz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP,
Redwood Shores, CA; Dan L. Bagatell, Perkins Coie LLP,
Reyna, Bryson, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.
Engine Technologies LLC ("DET") appeals the
district court's entry of judgment on the pleadings
holding that the asserted claims of DET's U.S. Patent
Nos. 5, 590, 259; 5, 784, 545; 6, 282, 551; and 5, 303, 146
are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The district court
held that the asserted claims are directed to abstract ideas
and fail to provide an inventive concept. We conclude that,
with the exception of claim 1 of the '551 patent, the
asserted claims of the '259, '545, and '551
patents ("Tab Patents") are directed to
patent-eligible subject matter. These claims are not
abstract, but rather are directed to a specific improved
method for navigating through complex three-dimensional
electronic spreadsheets. We agree, however, that the asserted
claims of the '146 patent, reciting methods for tracking
changes to data in spreadsheets, are directed to the abstract
idea of collecting, recognizing, and storing changed
information. After a searching review, we find nothing in
these claims that provides an inventive concept sufficient to
render the claims patent eligible. Accordingly, we
affirm-in-part, reverse-in-part, and remand.
Patents are titled "System and Methods for Improved
Spreadsheet Interface With User-Familiar Objects," and
claim priority to April 8, 1992. The Tab Patents claim
systems and methods for making complex electronic
spreadsheets more accessible by providing familiar,
user-friendly interface objects-specifically, notebook
tabs-to navigate through spreadsheets while circumventing the
arduous process of searching for, memorizing, and entering
Patents teach that the advent of electronic spreadsheets
offered dramatic improvements in creating, editing, and using
spreadsheets to organize and process data. Despite such
advantages, twenty-five years ago, electronic spreadsheets
were not easy to use. '259 patent col. 2 ll. 57-59. Users
were required to master complex commands in order to perform
basic operations within a spreadsheet. Id. at col. 2
ll. 28-29. To find an appropriate command for an operation,
users would navigate through complex menu systems, with the
proper command buried under several menus. Id. at
col. 2 ll. 29-32. "Finding this approach to be
unworkable, many users [would] memorize frequently-needed
commands instead." Id. at col. 2 ll. 41-42.
Because such commands were arbitrary (e.g., "/Worksheet
Global Default Other International"), users could only
master a very small fraction of available commands and
features. Id. at col. 2 ll. 40-47, 53-56.
Patents specifically identify problems with navigation
through prior art three-dimensional or multipage electronic
spreadsheets. The Tab Patents explain that the complex
commands required to manipulate each additional spread of the
three-dimensional spreadsheet diminished the utility and ease
of use of this technology.
invention claimed in the Tab Patents provided a solution to
this problem. Specifically, the Tab Patents are directed to
and claim a method of implementing a notebook-tabbed
interface, which allows users to easily navigate through
three-dimensional electronic spreadsheets. As shown in Figure
4G of the '259 patent below, the Tab Patents provide
"an electronic spreadsheet system including] a notebook
interface having a plurality of notebook pages, each of which
contains a spread of information cells, or other desired page
type." Id. at col. 3 11. 48-52. In contrast to
conventional electronic spreadsheets, the method claimed in
the Tab Patents "includes user-familiar objects, i.e.,
paradigms of real-world objects which the user already knows
how to use" such as notebook tabs. Id. at col.
6 11. 52-58. "In this manner, complexities of the system
are hidden under ordinary, everyday object metaphors,"
providing a "highly intuitive interface-one in which
advanced features (e.g., three-dimensionality) are easily
learned." Id. at col. 6 11. 58-63.
2D below shows more closely an individual spreadsheet page
with notebook tabs located along the bottom edge of the page.
preferred embodiment, "each page identifier is in the
form of a tab member (e.g., members 261a, 262a, 263a)
situated along a bottom edge of the notebook."
Id. at col. 8 ll. 13-15. Although these tabs are
labeled A, B, and C, etc., they are typically given
descriptive names assigned by the user. Id. at col.
8 ll. 19-23. To move to different spreadsheet pages, the user
selects the corresponding tab for that page. Id. at
col. 8 ll. 45-47. Thus, "instead of finding information
by scrolling different parts of a large spreadsheet, or by
invoking multiple windows of a conventional three-dimensional
spreadsheet, the present invention allows the user to simply
and conveniently 'flip through' several pages of the
notebook to rapidly locate information of interest."
Id. at col. 8 ll. 51-57. This improved interface
allows for "rapidly accessing and processing information
on the different pages, including, for example, displaying a
plurality of page identifiers for selecting individual
pages." Id. at col. 3 ll. 53-56.
these spreadsheet interfaces have become ubiquitous, Quattro
Pro, the first commercial embodiment of the claimed
invention, was highly acclaimed as having revolutionized
three-dimensional electronic spreadsheets. During
prosecution, DET submitted contemporaneous articles showing
the state of the art at the time of the invention and
evidencing the significance of the claimed methods to
spreadsheet technology. For example, PC World, a
leading computer magazine, published a frontpage article,
"Quattro Pro for Windows: The Ultimate 3-D
Spreadsheet." J.A. 981. The article reflected the
industry's view that "keeping large, complex
worksheet projects organized, manageable, and reliable ha[d]
long been a major concern for serious spreadsheet users"
and that existing spreadsheets had "data and results
hidden all over the place." J.A. 982. The article touts
the claimed notebook-tabbed spreadsheet interface as a
solution to that problem, explaining that it "makes
developing nifty applications far easier for the average
spreadsheet user, and [that] intelligent command organization
makes navigation efficient." Id. PC World
published another cover story naming Quattro Pro "The
Best of 1992," again lauding it as "the first
spreadsheet to make three-dimensional modeling an accessible,
useful analytic tool." J.A. 1007. The article stated
that "[o]ne of the keys to the product's success is
a notebook metaphor, in which each worksheet page can be
assigned a descriptive name and users can navigate through
the set by clicking on page tabs." Id.
in 1992, InfoWorld named Quattro Pro the product of
the year for productivity applications. In doing so,
We collected all the word processors, spreadsheets,
databases, personal information managers, and other
productivity applications and asked ourselves a question:
"Which of these programs really changed the way an
individual user goes about handling data? Does any one stand
out as a productivity booster?"
Our answer was Quattro Pro for Windows. The reason: Borland
designed this program from the ground up and examined how
spreadsheet users would work in a Windows environment.
The notebook metaphor, with pages and tabs for different
worksheets, simplifies handling large worksheets. The
"interface builder" lets a user design custom
dialog boxes without extensive macro programming. And, of
course, Quattro Pro's graphics are stellar.
1008 (emphasis added). In total, DET submitted seven articles
dated between 1992 and 1993, all touting the advantages of
its use of notebook tabs to improve navigation through
three-dimensional spreadsheets. See J.A. 981-1010.
filed suit against Google LLC, asserting claims 1-2, 12-13,
16-17, 19, 24, 46-47, and 51 of the '259 patent; claims
1-2, 5-7, 10, 13, and 35 of the '545 patent; and claims
1, 3, 6-7, 10, 12-13, 15, and 18 of the '551 patent. The
district court considered claim 12 of the '259 patent
representative of all asserted claims of the Tab Patents.
See Data Engine Techs. LLC v. Google Inc., 211
F.Supp.3d 669, 677-78 (D. Del. 2016) ("District
Court Op."). Claim 12 of the '259 patent
12. In an electronic spreadsheet system for storing and
manipulating information, a computer-implemented method of
representing a three-dimensional spreadsheet on a screen
display, the method comprising:
displaying on said screen display a first spreadsheet page
from a plurality of spreadsheet pages, each of said
spreadsheet pages comprising an array of information cells
arranged in row and column format, at least some of said
information cells storing user-supplied information and
formulas operative on said user-supplied information, each of
said information cells being uniquely identified by a
spreadsheet page identifier, a column identifier, and a row
while displaying said first spreadsheet page, displaying a
row of spreadsheet page identifiers along one side of said
first spreadsheet page, each said spreadsheet page identifier
being displayed as an image of a notebook tab on said screen
display and indicating a single respective spreadsheet page,
wherein at least one spreadsheet page identifier of said
displayed row of spreadsheet page identifiers comprises at
least one user-settable identifying character;
receiving user input for requesting display of a second
spreadsheet page in response to selection with an input
device of a spreadsheet page identifier for said second
in response to said receiving user input step, displaying
said second spreadsheet page on said screen display in a
manner so as to obscure said first spreadsheet page from
display while continuing to display at least a portion of
said row of spreadsheet page identifiers; and receiving user
input for entering a formula in a cell on said second
spreadsheet page, said formula including a cell reference to
a particular cell on another of said spreadsheet pages having
a particular spreadsheet page identifier comprising at least
one user-supplied identifying character, said cell reference
comprising said at least one user-supplied ...