In McRO, Inc., DBA Planet Blue v. Namco Games, et. al, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court’s finding that a software patent claims an abstract idea and is invalid under the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Alice case. McRo involved patents that cover a method for synchronizing lip and facial movements for animated 3-D characters, such as those displayed in video games.
At the trial court, the Defendants argued that McRO’s patents claim “a concept that is inherent in human speech” which constitutes an abstract idea ineligible for patent protection. The Defendants highlighted that there are only a finite number of ways that the human mouth will appear as it expresses speech and sounds and thus claimed that McRo’s patents merely automated a pre-existing process that could be drawn with pen and paper. The lower court agreed and found that the claims were too broad and that they covered abstract ideas. Under the Alice standard, a patent may not cover an abstract idea and accordingly, the lower court invalidated the patents under 35 USC § 101.
The Federal Circuit reversed the lower court and found that the patents at issue constituted patent-eligible subject matter under §101: “When looked at as a whole, claim 1 is directed to a patentable, technological improvement over the existing, manual 3-D animation techniques. The claim uses the limited rules in a process specifically designed to achieve an improved technological result in conventional industry practice. Alice, 134 S. Ct. at 2358 (citing Diehr, 450 U.S. at 177). Claim 1 of the ’576 patent, therefore, is not directed to an abstract idea.” The Court found that the claims were “limited to a specific process for automatically animating characters using particular information and techniques and does not preempt approaches that use rules of a different structure or different techniques.” The Federal Circuit cautioned lower courts reviewing patents for invalidity to “avoid oversimplifying the claims.”
Chelsie Spencer is a Senior Associate with the Dallas office of Kennedy Law, PC. She may be reached at 214-716-4345.