By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal
In Thales Visionix, Inc., v. U.S., [2015-5150] (March 8, 2017), the Federal Circuit reversed the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (“Claims Court”) determination that the claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,474,159 were directed to patent ineligible subject matter.
The Federal Circuit observed that the Supreme Court “has not established a definitive rule to determine what constitutes an ‘abstract idea.’” Because all inventions at some level embody, use, reflect, rest upon or apply laws of nature, natural phenomenon, or abstract ideas, the Federal Circuit said it was important to articulate what the claims are directed to with sufficient specificity to ensure that the step one inquiry is meaningful. The Federal Circuit looked to Rapid Litigation Management, Enfish, and Diamond v. Diehr, and concluded that for purposes of evaluating patent eligibility, the claims in the ‘159 patent were nearly indistinguishable from the claims at issue in Diehr, explaining that just as the claims in Diehr reduced the likelihood that the rubber molding process would result in over curing or under curing, the claims at issue result in a system that reduces errors in an inertial system that tracks an object on a moving platform.
The Federal Circuit also (and less aptly) analogized to Rapid Litigation, stating that just as claims directed to a new and useful technique for defining a database that runs on general-purpose computer computer equipment are patent eligible, so too are claims directed to a new and useful technique for using sensors to more efficiently track an object on a moving platform. (Editorial comment: the similarity of these two cases is hard to see.)
In a line that is sure to be quoted by applicants (and patent owners), the Federal Circuit said:
That a mathematical equation is required to complete the claimed method and system does not doom the claims to abstraction.
The Federal Circuit explained that far from claiming the equations themselves, the claims seek to protect only the application of physics to the unconventional configuration of sensors as disclosed, and concluded that the claims pass Step 1 of the Alice test.