Minitab wins patent case

Minitab, a statistical software developer, prevailed earlier this month in a patent infringement suit against EngineRoom in federal court.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an order granting Minitab’s motion for summary judgment, which invalidated Ohio-based EngineRoom’s three patents-in-suit as “unpatentable” subject matter under section 101 of the U.S. Patent Act.

“The decision is very significant for Minitab as its premier product, Minitab 16, which the company sold between 2010 and 2014, cannot infringe as the court has determined that all of the patents are invalid as claiming unpatentable subject matter,” K&L Gates attorney Bryan Sinclair said in an email.

“The decision allows us to return our focus and energy to delivering high quality products and services to our customers,” Minitab customer services executive Tina Konrath said.

EngineRoom’s three patents relate to a method of automated hypothesis testing. Ferguson Township-based Minitab challenged the validity of all three patents and asserted that the claimed inventions in EngineRoom’s patents were not eligible for patent protection.

Minitab began the case in August 2012 and sought a declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement. EngineRoom, which counterclaimed infringement and accused aspects of Minitab 16 Statistical Software of infringing its patents.

Sinclair said Minitab 16 Statistical Software is a product utilized by businesses to analyze data in connection with Six Sigma and quality improvement programs.

“Many universities also utilize Minitab 16 in connection with statistics courses where students at all levels are taught how to analyze data,” Sinclair said. “MoreSteam sells a data analysis product under the patents called EngineRoom.”

The court granted Minitab’s motion and agreed that the patents disclosed an unpatentable, abstract idea and that “requesting and receiving information from a user and displaying the results of various inputs and calculations on a screen are basic, conventional computer activities.”

The court’s decision has precedence, because it has invalidated other patents that attempted to claim patent protection for abstract ideas.

“I believe that the court agreed with Minitab’s position because the software inventions claimed in the patents, at their core, merely walk a user through a series of known steps with the goal of reducing or eliminating common errors in statistical analysis,” Sinclair said. “The court ultimately agreed that under the relatively recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International (case), these “error proofing” inventions were “abstract ideas” that were not patentable subject matter.”

Konrath said Minitab released Minitab Release 17 in February 2014, a product that EngineRoom did not accuse of infringement.