Computer System Determining Orientation to Reference Defines Patent Eligible Subject Matter

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has held that computer system claims used in an inertial tracking system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame defines patent eligible subject matter under Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. section 101.  The “system for tracking [] motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame” is used in a wide variety of applications, including aircraft navigation and virtual reality simulations.  Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States, case no. 2015-5150 ( Fed. Cir. March 8, 2017) (Available Here).

The ‘159 patent discloses an inertial tracking system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame.  The “object” in the claims may be a helmet, and the object has inertial sensors that calculate position information relative to the frame of the moving platform, such as the body of an aircraft.

Claim 1 recites: “A system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame, comprising: [a] a first inertial sensor mounted on the tracked object; [b] a second inertial sensor mounted on the moving reference frame; and [c] an element adapted to receive signals from said first and second inertial sensors and configured to determine an orientation of the object relative to the moving reference frame based on the signals received from the first and second inertial sensors.”

Claim 22 recites: “A method comprising [a] determining an orientation of an object relative to a moving reference frame [b] based on signals from two inertial sensors mounted respectively on the object and on the moving reference frame.”

It should be noted that the only claimed output is a “determin[ation][of] an orientation of the object relative to the moving reference frame.”

Thales Visionix (“TVI”) sued the government and asserted the helmet mounted display system (a head mounted display system or “HMDS”) in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter infringes claims 1-5.

The Claims Court ruled that the claims defined non-eligible patent subject metter under Section 101 of the Patent Act.  The Court reviewed a determination that claims are not directed to patent-eligible subject matter de novo. Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., 822 F.3d 1327, 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 101, the Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that patent protection should not extend to claims that monopolize “the basic tools of scientific and technological work.” Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 67 (1972); Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 566 U.S. 66, 71 (2012); Alice Corp. Pty. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S. Ct. 2347, 2354 (2014).

The Federal Circuit Court began its analysis of Alice Corp Step 1: “whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept.” Id. at 2355. While the Two Steps of the Alice Corp. framework are related, the “Supreme Court’s formulation makes clear that the first-stage filter is a meaningful one, sometimes ending the § 101 inquiry.” Elec. Power Grp., LLC v. Alstom S.A., 830 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 2016).  Further the Court must ensure at Step 1 to articulate what the claims are directed to with enough specificity to ensure the Step 1 inquiry is meaningful.

For example, the Supreme Court has held that separating viable cells from non-viable ones, and recovering and refreezing the viable cells recited in the claims defined patent-eligible subject matter under Step 1 of Alice Corp.  The Supreme Court explained that claims are patent eligible under § 101 “when a claim containing a mathematical formula implements or applies that formula in a structure or process which, when considered as a whole, is performing a function which the patent laws were designed to protect.”

With respect to TVI’s patent claims, the claims are directed to systems and methods that use inertial sensors in a non-conventional manner to reduce errors in measuring the relative position and orientation of a moving object on a moving reference frame. At Alice Corp Step 1, “it is not enough to merely identify a patent-ineligible concept underlying the claim; we must determine whether that patent-ineligible concept is what the claim is ‘directed to.”‘ Rapid Litig., 827 F.3d at 1050.

Herein the claims are directed to a new and useful technique for using sensors to more efficiently track an object on a moving platform.  Therefore, the patent claims define patent eligible subject matter.

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