Federal Circuit says automating 3D-animation method is patent eligible

The Federal Circuit recently issued a decision in McRo, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America, which found that the software patent claims at issue were not directed to an abstract idea and were patent eligible.

The patents in question related to automating a part of a 3D-animation method. Essentially, the patents cover lip synchronization of animated characters so that the lips of the animated character move in a normal fashion to the point where the animated character’s lips can be read.

After going through a two-plus page recitation of the law, Judge Reyna summarized the district court holding, that the claims were drawn to an abstract idea of automating rules-based use of morph targets and delta sets for lip synchronization in 3D animation. Reyna explained that the Federal Circuit disagreed with that determination, reminding the district court that they have cautioned courts to carefully “avoid oversimplifying the claims.” Reyna would go on to say that these claims are specifically “limited to rules with specific characteristics.”

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USPTO Director Lee testifies before House Judiciary Committee

On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 13th, the intellectual property subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee convened for a hearing on oversight of practices and procedures at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The day’s sole panelist was USPTO director Michelle K. Lee. The day’s discussion focused on recent reports from federal governmental agencies regarding issues at the USPTO surrounding patent litigation as well as time and attendance abuses among USPTO examiners.

A press release posted in advance of the hearing contained statements from both House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet subcommittee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) provided a good indication of the direction the hearing would take. Both statements reflected a wariness regarding timesheet abuses among USPTO employees. “The amount of wasted man-hours that could have been spent reducing the patent backlog is astounding, not to mention the millions of taxpayer dollars that were wasted paying USPTO employees for work they were not doing,” Goodlatte’s statement read. Issa added, “If the PTO can’t even guarantee sufficient oversight of its employees timecards, how can we be assured patent examiners aren’t just rubberstamping ideas without oversight as well?”

The concerns of both Congressmen stem from an examiner time and attendance report issued August 31st by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department’s OIG found 288,000 unsupported hours of work claimed by examiners over a 15-month period, which was equated to more than $18.3 million in potential waste. The OIG report also found multiple weak points in USPTO policy which limits the agency’s ability to detect fraud, including no requirement for teleworking examiners to log into computers during workdays as well as no requirement for workers with average or high performance ratings to provide supervisors with work schedules.

The methodology used during the OIG’s study on time and attendance abuse was also questioned by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Nadler’s prepared remarks noted that the unsupported work hours identified in the OIG’s report amounted to less than 2 percent of all hours worked by examiners during the 15-month period of the study. “In fact, the IG acknowledges that after the USPTO instituted certain reforms to its telework policy, six months into the study, the percentage of unsupported hours dropped to just 1.6%, an efficiency rate that most employers would boast about,” Nadler’s prepared remarks stated. “But, the IG buried this fact in a footnote deep in the report.”

“My team and I do not tolerate time and attendance abuse,” Lee told the subcommittee. While she did note that the USPTO had taken disciplinary actions against examiners that have abused time and attendance reports, such actions ranging from counseling to expulsion and repayment for hours not worked, she added that there was evidence that instances of time and attendance abuse were not widespread. She cited a report on the USPTO’s telework program issued by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) in July 2015. The report found that “It would appear to be unlikely that [time and attendance] abuse is widespread or unique to teleworkers, and it does not appear to reflect the actions of the workforce as a whole.”

09.19.16 | Patent Issues, USPTO | Gene Quinn

CAFC rules Board misapplied law of common sense

On August 10, 2016, the Federal Circuit issued an important ruling in Arendi S.A.R.L. v. Apple, Inc.

The dispute dates back several years to December 2, 2013, when Apple Inc., Google, Inc. and Motorola Mobility LLC (collectively “Appellees”) filed a petition for inter partes review (“IPR”) of U.S. Patent No. 7,917,843, which is owned by appellant Arendi S.A.R.L. After conducting the administrative trial proceeding, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) issued a decision finding claims 1-2, 8, 14-17, 20-21, 23-24, 30, 36-39, and 42-43 obvious.

The Federal Circuit panel (Judges Moore, Linn and O’Malley) determined that the Board misapplied the law on the permissible use of common sense in an obviousness analysis and reversed.

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Alice Experts and the Return of Second Pair of Eyes to the PTO

“I have not yet run into an Art Unit that does not have someone designated as an Alice expert,” explained JiNan Glasgow of Neopatents. “They won’t always tell you who it is, but they all say they have an Alice expert.”

While discussing the importance of doing interviews in every single case, Glasgow explained that although it is not something that has been generally publicly disclosed by the Patent Office, “in every art unit examiners confirm that there is an examiner within the Art Unit who is the Alice expert and that examiners have said that even if they are ready to allow a case, nothing can be allowed without the approval of that Alice expert.” This applies to TC 3600 and beyond, according to Glasgow.

If what examiner after examiner has told Glasgow is correct, this means there is essentially a return to the so-called “second pair of eyes” review at the Patent Office.

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Less than 20% of U.S. patents have at least one woman inventor

Although women have more than quintupled their representation among patent holders since 1977, a pronounced patent gender gap remains. In 2010, according to a new briefing paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), fewer than one in five patents had at least one woman inventor named. Although quintupling the number of women inventors over the last 30+ years is impressive, at the current growth rate, it is projected that it will take until 2092 for women to reach parity in patenting.

The IWPR briefing paper reports that women make up only 7.7 percent of primary inventors who hold patents. According to IWPR, those women who are the primary inventor tend to hold patents for inventions associated with traditional female roles, such as jewelry and apparel.

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08.17.16 | Patent Issues, posts | Gene Quinn

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