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Vehicle Intelligence and Safety LLC v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, Daimler AG

Representative Claim

  1. A method to screen an equipment operator for impairment, comprising:

screening an equipment operator by one or more expert systems to detect potential impairment of said equipment operator;

selectively testing said equipment operator when said screening of said equipment

operator detects potential impairment of said equipment operator; and

controlling operation of said equipment if said selective testing of said equipment operator indicates said impairment of said equipment operator, wherein said screening of said equipment operator includes a time-sharing allocation of at least one processor executing at least one expert system.

 

  1. A system to screen an equipment operator, comprising:

a screening module to screen and selectively test an equipment operator when said screening indicates potential impairment of said equipment operator, wherein said screening module utilizes one or more expert system modules in screening said equipment operator; and

a control module to control operation of said equipment if said selective testing of said equipment operator indicates said impairment of said equipment operator, wherein said screening module includes one or more expert system modules that utilize at least a portion of one or more

equipment modules selected from the group of equipment modules consisting of: an operations module, an audio module, a navigation module, an anti-theft module, and a climate control module.

Posture:

Appeal from Case No. 1:13-cv-04417 in US District Court for N.D. Illinois.

Abstract Idea: Yes

The Court found that representative claims 8 and 16 of the ‘392 patent are directed to the abstract idea of “testing operators of any kind of moving equipment for any kind of physical or mental impairment.  The Court found that “[n]one of the claims at issue are limited to a particular kind of impairment, explain how to perform either screening or testing for impairment, specify how to program the ‘expert system’ to perform any screening or testing, or explain the nature of control to be exercised on the vehicle in response to the test results.”  The Court went on to state:

“[C]ritically absent from the entire patent is how the existing vehicle equipment can be used to measure these characteristics; assuming these measurements can be made, how the decision module determines if an operator is impaired based on these measurements; assuming this determination can be made, how the decision module decides which control response to make; and assuming the control response decision can be made, how the ‘expert system’ effectuates the chosen control response. At best, the ’392 patent answers the question of how to provide faster, more accurate and reliable impairment testing by simply stating ‘use an expert system.’ Thus, in the absence of any details about how the ‘expert system’ works, the claims at issue are drawn to a patent ineligible abstract idea, satisfying Mayo/Alice step one.”

The Patent Owner’s argument that the district court erred in finding the first step of the Mayo/Alice test satisfied “because the claims at issue do not preempt all equipment operator testing” was strictly rebuffed by the Court, which explained:

“This argument is meritless. As the Supreme Court has explained, the preemption concern is the basis for the creation of the three judicial exceptions to statutory patent eligibility. Alice, 134 S. Ct. at 2354–55. And while assessing the preemptive effect of a claim helps to inform the Mayo/Alice two-step analysis, the mere existence of a non-preempted use of an abstract idea does not prove that a claim is drawn to patent-eligible subject matter. If we adopt Vehicle Intelligence’s argument, all a patentee would need do to insulate itself from a § 101 challenge would be to identify a single prior art reference in the specification and state that its invention improves upon that reference.”

Something More: No

The Court found that representative claims 8 and 16 of the ‘392 patent do not contain an ‘inventive concept’ sufficient to transform the recited abstract idea into subject matter that is patent eligible.  The Court rejected the Patent Owner’s arguments that the claimed subject matter is tied to ‘specialized existing equipment models,’ stating in relevant part:

“But markedly absent from the ’392 patent is any explanation of how the methods at issue can be embedded into these existing modules.

……….

The specification does not provide any more detail and, in fact, explains that the processors used in the methods may be ‘based on any commercially available microprocessor of any word bit width and clock speed, a control Read-Only-Memory, or a data processing equivalent.’

……….

Yet the ’392 patent is completely devoid of any explanation of what these hardware and software differences are, let alone any explanation how to implement them using the existing equipment modules.”

The Court also rejected the Patent Owner’s arguments based on the DDR Holdings rationale that the claims are necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to satisfy a need for faster, more accurate and reliable impairment testing of vehicle operators.  On this issue, the Court stated:

“There are two problems with this argument. The claims at issue are not ‘necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks’ as in DDR Holdings. 773 F.3d at 1257. The claims do not address a problem arising in the realm of computer networks—they are broadly drafted to cover testing a vehicle operator for impairments, similar to a police officer field testing a driver for sobriety. Second, the claims at issue do not recite faster, more accurate and reliable impairment testing than what was known in the prior art. As explained above, they merely recite using an undefined ‘expert system’ to screen and test for impairments. The specification does not explain how this ‘expert system’ achieves any improvements over the prior art. Rather, the specification lists ‘at least ten major advantages to using expert system screening in conjunction with already existing modules in equipment to detect impairment in an equipment operator’ without explaining how the expert system achieves these advantages. ’392 patent at 6:50–7:8. Such bald assertions made at such a high level of generality and not tied to any claim language do not provide an ‘inventive concept’ sufficient to save these claims from patent-ineligibility.”