Finding a lack of technical innovation, a court held claims for three features for a user-vehicle interface to be directed to patent-ineligible abstract ideas under the Mayo/Alice test and 35 U.S.C. § 101. Thunder Power New Energy Vehicle Development Co. Ltd. v. Byton North America Corp., No. 18-cv-03115-JST (N.D. Ca., Oct. 31, 2018).
Plaintiff, Thunder Power, alleged infringement by Defendant Byton of claims of Patent Nos. 9,547,373, 9,563,329, and 9,561,724. Byton moved to dismiss, contending that the asserted claims failed to recite patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The court granted the motion to dismiss.
The ‘373 Patent
Patent ‘373 is directed to a system that captures and processes gesture signals from both a driver and a passenger, prioritizing the driver where the two are in conflict.
Claim 1, chosen by the court as representative recites in part:
A vehicle operating system for operating a vehicle . . . comprising . . .
a processing device configured to . . .
determine a first operational signal is from a gesture action image for the driver and determine a second operational signal is from a gesture action image for the passenger . . .
select the first operational signal as the operating signal and discard the second operational signal by virtue of the first operational signal being from the driver in response to the determination that the first operation signal is not consistent with the second operation signal . . .
Applying step one of the Mayo/Alice test, the court considered whether the claims at issue were directed to an abstract idea.
Here, Thunder Power asserted the claims address a problem unique to vehicles of driver and passenger safety associated with inattentive or distracted driving. Selecting between driver and passenger input improves vehicle functionality by allowing the driver or passenger to utilize vehicle functions in a less distracting way than conventional methods.
Byton took the position that there is nothing non-abstract about receiving a signal from two people, and, in case of a conflict, performing an operation based on the signal from one of the people. Byton analogized this situation to a quarterback receiving one signal from the head coach, receiving a conflicting signal from the offensive coordinator and executing the signal from the head coach.
The court agreed with Byton. The claims of the ‘373 were like the claims in Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC v. Amazon.com Inc., 838 F.3d (Fed. Cir. 2016). Affinity Labs describes a “media managing system . . . a collection of instructions that are operable when executed . . . and a network-based delivery resource” that retrieves and streams the requested content. Id. The “specification described the function of streaming content to a wireless device, but not a specific means for performing the function.” Id. The ‘373 patent is similar and describes a vehicle operating system that captures gestures from an individual, converts gestures into operating signals and executes the operating signals. Citing Interval Licensing LLC v. AOL, Inc., 896 F.3d (Fed Cir. 2018), the court noted that [a]ny explanation of how these various devices will accomplish these steps, at a technical level, is absent.” The purely functional nature of the claim confirms that it is directed to an abstract idea, not to a concrete embodiment of that idea.” Affinity Labs.
Applying step two of Alice, the court considered whether the claim “contains an inventive concept sufficient to transform the claimed abstract idea into a patent-eligible application.” Alice. Byton took the position that claim 1 relies only on generic components such as computer processors and does not contain any instructions for programming the generic components. Thunder Power countered by citing Bascom Global Internet Services., Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 827 F.3d (Fed. Cir. 2016) for the premise that “an inventive concept can be found in the non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces.”
The court again agreed with Byton. A claim that simply takes an abstract idea and adds “the requirement to perform it on the Internet, or to perform it on a set of generic computer components . . . would not be an inventive concept.” Bascom. Prioritizing, by a computer, a command from a driver over a command from a passenger, does not amount to an inventive step.
The ‘724 and ‘329 Patents
The court then addressed claims of the ‘724 patent and the ‘329 patent. The ‘724 patent is directed to switching the location of two panels in a screen display based on user input, and then, after a time, restoring the original display. The ‘329 patent is directed to duplicating a panel on a first screen to a separate display position on a dashboard screen. The court concluded that neither of these patents asserted any improvement beyond “the presentation of information in conjunction with other information.” Alice. Accordingly, they are directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.
Lessons for Practice
When patenting software, include technical details in the specifications and the claims and explain how they represent a technical improvement. Here, referring to the ‘373 patent, the court looked at how the claim distinguished between the driver and the passenger, and found no technical improvement.