In November of 2016, the Federal Circuit upheld a district
court's invalidation of Affinity Lab's Patent No. 7,970,379
("the '379 Patent), which was directed to a method and
system for streaming regional broadcast signals to cellular
telephones located outside the region served by the regional
broadcaster. Affinity had sued a variety of defendants,
including DirecTV, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey
League for infringing its patent by their use of streaming services
to broadcast games to fans. Many major league sports
companies like the MLB and NHL use streaming devices to enable
subscribers to view games on their phones when outside of their
local broadcast region. Due to complex broadcast rights and
blackout requirements, fans cannot always watch their favorite
teams while traveling without this type of streaming service.
Streaming services also provide an additional revenue
stream for major sports leagues.
At the district court level, the Magistrate Judge assigned to
the case recommended that the '379 Patent be held invalid under
the Alice test. Under the guidance of the Alice
case, the court conducts a two-step test to determine if a
patent is merely directed to an abstract idea (i.e., and therefore
invalid). First the court looks to see whether the claim is
directed to a patent-ineligible concept, i.e., a law of nature, a
natural phenomenon, or an abstract idea. If it is, the court
then looks to whether the elements of the claim, considered both
individually and as an ordered combination, add enough to transform
the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.
In applying the Alice test, the Magistrate Judge
reasoned that all the patent did was take the abstract idea of
broadcasting a game to a user who is outside of the game's
broadcast region and apply it to a generic cellular telephone
device acting as a generic computer. The district court
accepted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and entered
judgment against the patent owner. The Federal Circuit upheld
the decision. It reasoned that "[t]he practice of
conveying regional content to out-of-region recipients has been
employed by nearly every form of media that has a local
distribution. . . As the magistrate judge noted, such out-of-region
broadcasts have been commonplace since the late 20th century, in
the form of systems delivering local radio and television
broadcasts of sporting events to a national audience."
The claims themselves did nothing to transform the nature of the
claim into a patent-eligible application. The claims did not
explain how the streaming was to be implemented, only that
it was to be done. According to the Federal Circuit, the
claims did nothing more than simply describe the abstract
Affinity petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Federal
Circuit's decision, but the petition was denied.
Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC. v. DirecTV, LLC, 838
F.3d 1253 (Fed. Cir. 2016)
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