Generating Tactile Patterns Held Patent-Eligible

Patent claims directed to providing output in tactile patterns on a mobile device to provide an encoded message have survived a 35 USC § 101 patent-eligibility challenges under the Alice/Mayo test. In Ironworks Patents LLC v. Apple, Inc., No. 17-1399-RGA (D. Del. June 12, 2018), the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under FRCP 12(b)(6).

The defendant argued that the claims of US Patent No. 6,850,150 and US Patent No. 8 ,847,734 simply applied a patent-ineligible “abstract idea – using a vocabulary to convey information – to the user interface of the portable electronic device.” But the court was more persuaded by the plaintiff’s argument that “[c]laims to tangible systems are typically patent eligible.”

In support of its position, the plaintiff had cited two notable recent cases. The first of these was the recent Federal Circuit decision in Aatrix Software, Inc. v. Green Shades Software, Inc., positing fact questions that could be resolved to “establish that the claimed combination contains inventive components and improves the workings of the computer.” Second, the plaintiff noted the Northern District of California’s March, 2018, holding in Immersion Corp. v. Fitbit, Inc., that claims directed to providing haptic (i.e., tactile) feedback were patent-eligible.

Comparing the present claims favorably to the claims at issue in Immersion Corp., the court further found the claims similar

to the claims in Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp., 867 F.3d 1253, 1259 (Fed. Cir. 2017), [reversing] the district court's conclusion that the claims were directed to the "abstract idea of categorical data storage," stating that the claims "demonstrate[ d] that they are directed to an improved computer memory system . . . ." Likewise, the asserted claims here are directed to an improved "portable device" and "mobile station," respectively. The claims might incorporate the abstract idea of "using a vocabulary to convey information," but that does not mean that each claim in its entirety is directed to the abstract idea of "using a vocabulary to convey information," or to any other abstract idea.

It seems to me that the claims here, directed to generating and providing haptic output in a pattern, could be characterized as fairly different from the Visual Memory claims, which were directed to categorizing and storing data in a computer cash. Moreover, take a look at a case the court here did not cite, but certainly could have: Recognicorp, LLC. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd., 855 F. 3d 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2017), which held a technique for encoding image data to be patent-ineligible.

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