Thales Visionix’s Patent Claims for Tracking a Moving Object Relative to Moving Reference Frame Confirmed Patent-Eligible

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held on March 8, 2017, that another set of software patent claims were directed to patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Thales Visionix v. United States, No. 2016-5150, 2107 U.S. App. LEXIS 4059, at 13-15 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 8, 2017) involved an appeal from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims’ grant of a motion for judgment on the pleadings that the claims asserted by Thales Visionix were invalid because they were directed to subject matter ineligible for patenting. The claims involved determining an orientation of an object relative to a moving reference frame, and the purported advance was that the claimed systems required the use of two inertial sensors: one on the tracked object and another on the moving reference frame.

The Court of Federal Claims had construed the claims as being directed to an abstract idea because they used mathematical equations for determining the relative position of a moving object to a moving reference frame. The Federal Circuit criticized that approach for failing to consider the unconventional approach required by the claims. Specifically, the claimed solution of using two inertial sensors was not used in conventional systems that were designed to perform the same task, and resulted in reduced errors, simpler installation, and beneficial self-containment. The Court directly analogized the claims to those confirmed to be eligible in Diehr, which likewise applied a mathematical formula to a physical system in a way that produced a tangible benefit.

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit held that the claims were directed to systems and methods that use inertial sensors in an unconventional manner to reduce errors in measuring the relative position and orientation of a moving object on a moving reference frame. With that framework in place, the Court concluded that the claims were not directed to an abstract idea because they produced a system that reduces errors while tracking an object on a moving platform.

This result illustrates that it can be beneficial in patent applications involving software improvements to clearly describe in the specification what additions and subtractions have been made relative to conventional solutions and how those changes produce a benefit. In addition, this result illustrates that it can be beneficial to expressly tie the claim language to those differences from conventional solutions so that it is clear that the benefits produced flow from elements required by the claims.

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