The Federal Circuit Already Follows ABA and IPO Recommendations

As illustrated by a recent Federal Circuit Decision, the Courts may already be following the recent recommendations of the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA), and the Intellectual Property Owner’s Association (IPO).

A portion of the ABA March 25, 2017 recommendation states that with regard to Section 101, patent eligibility shall not be negated when a practical of a law of nature, natural phenomenon, or abstract idea is the subject matter of the claims.

Similarly, a portion of the IPO February 7, 2017 recommendation states that the claimed invention is ineligible under Section 101 if and only if the claimed invention exists in nature independently of and prior to any human activity, or exists solely in the human mind.

In the Federal Circuit March 8, 2017 decision, in Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States (2015-5050), Judge Moore found that the ‘159 patent discloses an inertial tracking system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame.  Inertial sensors, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes, measure the specific forces associated with changes in a sensor’s position and orientation relative to a known starting position.  When mounted on a moving object, inertial sensors can calculate the position, orientation, and velocity of the object in 3-dimensional space, based on a specified starting point, without the need for any other external information.

Claim 22 of the ‘159 patent reads:  A method comprising determining an orientation of an object relative to a moving reference frame based on signals from two inertial sensors mounted respectively on the object and on the moving reference frame.

The Court found that these claims are not merely directed to the abstract idea of using “mathematical equations for determining the relative position of a moving object to a moving reference frame.”  Rather, 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.

The platform (e.g., vehicle) inertial sensors directly measure the gravitational field in the platform frame.  The object (e.g., helmet) inertial sensors then calculate position information relative to the frame of the moving platform.

Claim 22 requires: (1) a first inertial sensor on a tracked object; (2) a second inertial sensor on the moving platform; and (3) the determination of orientation of the tracked object “based on” the signals from the two inertial sensors, as disclosed in the specification.

The Court held: “The claims specify a particular configuration of inertial sensors and a particular method of using the raw data from the sensors in order to more accurately calculate the position and orientation of an object on a moving platform.  The mathematical equations are a consequence of the arrangement of the sensors and the unconventional choice of reference frame in order to calculate position and orientation.  Far from claiming the equations themselves, the claims seek to protect only the application of physics to the unconventional configuration of sensors as disclosed.  As such, these claims are not directed to an abstract idea and thus the claims survive Alice step one.”

Patent prosecutors concerned with Alice restrictions will want to pay particular attention to the ABA and IPO recommendations, in light of the Thales decision.