Wednesday, 15 September 2021 07:28

Google’s win against 3-D spreadsheet patent claims affirmed by Fed Circ

The Google logo is seen on on the company’s European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, February 27, 2021. Picture taken February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

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  • Data Engine Technologies alleged Google Sheets infringed patents
  • Fed Cir previously affirmed patents’ validity
  • Data Engine wrongly tried to change patent interpretation for infringement argument

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(Reuters) — Google’s spreadsheet program doesn’t infringe patents owned by a subsidiary of non-practicing entity Acacia Research, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed Thursday.

Google Sheets isn’t a "three-dimensional spreadsheet" under the patents’ definition, U.S. Circuit Judge Kara Stoll wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.

The panel also rejected Data Engine Technologies LLC’s attempt to argue for a different interpretation of "three-dimensional spreadsheet" than it raised when it was defending the patents’ validity. The Federal Circuit previously found that the patents at issue were valid in 2018, reversing U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark’s 2016 decision to invalidate the patents at Google’s request because the claims were directed to abstract ideas.

Google and its attorney Ginger Anders of Munger Tolles & Olson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Data Engine or its attorneys Amir Alavi and Justin Chen of Ahmad Zavitsanos Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing.

Plano, Texas-based Data Engine -- a unit of Acacia Research -- first sued Mountain View, California-based Google in Delaware federal court in 2014, alleging its Google Sheets spreadsheet program infringed patents related to using notebook-style tabs to organize and display information in three-dimensional electronic spreadsheets.

Stark granted Google summary judgment last year, finding Google didn’t infringe because Google Sheets isn’t a "three-dimensional spreadsheet" based on the term’s use in the preamble, or introductory phrase, to the parts of the patent at issue.

Data Engine argued on appeal that the preamble wasn’t entitled to "patentable weight." But Stoll, joined by Circuit Judges Jimmie Reyna and Todd Hughes, affirmed the summary-judgment decision on Thursday, agreeing that the preamble limited the other parts of the patent to only relate to 3-D spreadsheets and that Google didn’t infringe.

Stoll noted that Data Engine contradicted its argument from the first Federal Circuit case, where it said the preamble was part of what made the patents valid because they solved a problem specific to 3-D spreadsheets.

"We have repeatedly rejected efforts to twist claims, like ‘a nose of wax,’ in one way to avoid invalidity and another to find infringement," Stoll said.

Stoll also affirmed Stark’s interpretation of "three-dimensional spreadsheet" to require a "mathematical relation among cells on different spreadsheet pages," and that Google Sheets pages don’t have this relation.

The case is Data Engine Technologies LLC v. Google LLC, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 21-1050.

For Data Engine: Amir Alavi and Justin Chen of Ahmad Zavitsanos Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing

For Google: Ginger Anders of Munger Tolles & Olson

Blake Brittain

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.