Graphical User Interfaces can be Patentable within the U.S. Alice Framework

Graphical User Interfaces can be Patentable within the U.S. Alice Framework

A recent case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sheds more light on what types of Computer Implemented Inventions might be considered patentable.

The patents in this case (Trading Technologies Int., Inc. v. CQG) relate to user interfaces, and in particular to user interfaces designed to facilitate real-time trading. The ’132 and ’304 patents describe and claim a method and system for the electronic trading of stocks, bonds, futures, options and similar products. The patents explain problems that arise when a trader attempts to enter an order at a particular price, but misses the price because the market moved before the order was entered and executed. It also sometimes occurred that trades were executed at different prices than intended, due to rapid market movement.

To address these problems, the patents are for “[a] method and system for reducing the time it takes for a trader to place a trade when electronically trading on an exchange, thus increasing the likelihood that the trader will have orders filled at desirable prices and quantities”. The patents describe a trading system in which a graphical user interface “display[s] the market depth of a commodity traded in a market, including a dynamic display for a plurality of bids and for a plurality of asks in the market for the commodity and a static display of prices corresponding to the plurality of bids and asks” (’132 patent col. 3, ll. 11–16; ’304 patent col. 3, ll. 15–20). In the patented system the bid and asked prices are displayed dynamically along the static display, and the system pairs orders with the static display of prices and prevents order entry at a changed price.

The issue in this case is whether the claims recite patentable subject matter or are merely directed to an abstract idea. The Court’s opinion in Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014), provides the framework for patent-eligibility of business methods. The Court explained that a patent’s claim falls outside § 101 where:

  • it is “directed to” a patent-ineligible concept, i.e., a law of nature, natural phenomenon, or abstract idea, and
  • if so, the particular elements of the claim, considered “both individually and ‘as an ordered combination,’” do not add enough to “‘transform the nature of the claim’ into a patent-eligible application.”

Based on this Alice framework, the District Court in this case explained that the challenged patents do not simply claim displaying information on a graphical user interface. The claims require a specific, structured graphical user interface paired with a prescribed functionality directly related to the graphical user interface’s structure that is addressed to and resolves a specifically identified problem in the prior state of the art. The District Court concluded that the patented subject matter meets the eligibility standards of Alice Step 1. The Court of Appeal concurred with the District Court, for all of the reasons articulated by the District Court, including that the graphical user interface system of these two patents is not an idea that has long existed and satisfies the threshold criterion of an abstract idea and ineligible concept, as the court explained in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. 66, 73 (2012) (the patent must “amount to significantly more in practice than a patent upon the [ineligible concept itself]”).

This case provides some valuable indications on how to anticipate and to overcome excluded-subject objections in the U.S. In particular, it provides an indication that a graphical user interface may be patentable, if specifically configured to provide new functionality.

For more information, please contact William Murphy at