Section 101 Gaining Momentum: Applying Physics to Uncommon Inertial Sensor Configuration Is Not an Abstract Idea

Author: Christopher C. Johns 
Editor: Kevin D. Rodkey

In Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States, No. 15-5150 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 8, 2017), the Federal Circuit reversed a decision of the Court of Federal Claims that found claims drawn to an inertial tracking system patent-ineligible under Section 101.

Thales sued the U.S. Government, alleging infringement of Thales’s patent directed to an inertial tracking system by the helmet-mounted display of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The patent claims a tracking system with a first sensor on an object being tracked, a second sensor on a moving reference frame, and an element that determines the tracked object’s orientation relative to the moving reference frame using signals from both sensors.

The Court of Federal Claims found the claims were directed to “the abstract idea of using laws of nature governing motion to track two objects” were not patent eligible under Section 101.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed, finding the claims “nearly indistinguishable” from those in the Supreme Court’s Diamond v. Diehr decision, because the claims use mathematical equations in conjunction with “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 Federal Circuit explained that using a mathematical equation “does not doom the claims to abstraction.” The claims, the court explained, do not seek to claim the equations themselves, but instead “seek to protect only the application of physics to the unconventional configuration of sensors.” Accordingly, the court held that the claims are not directed to an abstract idea and are patent-eligible.

 

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