McRO Patent Upheld Again at Federal Circuit, But Not Infringed

By Eileen McDermott
May 20, 2020

“We agree with McRO that the Developers failed to identify with particularity any method of animation that falls within the scope of claim 1 and is not enabled. Without any specific examples, the district court’s reasoning is too abstract, too conclusory, to support summary judgment.” – Federal Circuit opinion

Federal CircuitThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in a precedential decision authored by Judge Taranto, today affirmed-in-part, vacated-in-part and remanded a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America Inc. et. al.

The case derives from the 2016 Federal Circuit decision determining that McRO’s challenged patent claims were directed to the display of lip synchronization and facial expressions of animated characters, which the court said were not directed to an abstract idea and were therefore patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101.

In today’s ruling, the Court considered whether the district court’s decision on remand, which held that the Developer defendants and defendant-appellees “were entitled to summary judgment of noninfringement because the accused products do not practice the claimed methods and to summary judgment of invalidity because the specification fails to enable the full scope of the claims,” was correct.

At issue was U.S. Patent No. 6,611,278, “which describes and claims a method for automatically generating animations, with a three-dimensional appearance, depicting lip movements and facial expressions.”

Claim 1 was deemed representative for purposes of the issues on appeal:

    1. A method for automatically animating lip synchronization and facial expression of three-dimensional characters comprising:

obtaining a first set of rules that defines a morph weight set stream as a function of phoneme sequence and times associated with said phoneme sequence;

obtaining a plurality of subsequences of timed phonemes corresponding to a desired audio sequence for said three-dimensional characters;

generating an output morph weight set stream by applying said first set of rules to each sub-sequence of said plurality of sub-sequences of timed phonemes; and

applying said output morph weight set stream to an input sequence of animated characters to generate an output sequence of animated characters with lip and facial expression synchronized to said audio sequence.

After the Federal Circuit’s 2016 ruling in McRO, the Developers moved for summary judgment of noninfringement and invalidity, this time arguing that the claims were not enabled under 35 U.S.C. §112. The district court found the Developers had proven that “at the time of the invention, a person of skill in the art would not have the tools to practice the full scope of the ‘first set of rules’ limitation.”

The Federal Circuit affirmed the finding of noninfringement, as the court agreed with the district court’s and the Developers’ construction of the claim term “morph weight set,” under which the parties agreed there was no infringement.

But on the topic of enablement, the Court said:

We agree with McRO that the Developers failed to identify with particularity any method of animation that falls within the scope of claim 1 and is not enabled. Without any specific examples, the district court’s reasoning is too abstract, too conclusory, to support summary judgment. We do not go so far as to hold that there is a triable issue of fact on enablement—instead, we vacate the judgment and remand for the district court to consider how to proceed.

The Court further explained that none of the case law relied upon by the district court or the developers was relevant, as those cases involved “specific identification of products or processes that were or may be within the scope of the claims and were allegedly not enabled,” while the Developers’ and district court’s analysis relied on “an abstract assertion of breadth, without concrete identification of matter that is not enabled but is or may be within the claim scope,” concluding:

We see no reason in this case to depart from our usual requirement that the challenger identify specifics that are or may be within the claim but are not enabled. Specifics have always mattered. Here, a “fuller set of fact-findings [about what is] within the scope of the claims” is necessary “to decide the enablement issue.”

(citations omitted)

Ultimately, the Court affirmed the judgment of noninfringement of the ’278 patent, vacated the district court’s judgment that the Developers were entitled to summary judgment that the ’278 patent is invalid for lack of enablement, and remanded the case “for such further proceedings as are appropriate, considering the Developers’ offer to withdraw their invalidity counterclaims.”

 

The Author

Eileen McDermott

Eileen McDermott is the Editor-in-Chief of IPWatchdog.com. Eileen is a veteran IP and legal journalist, and no stranger to the intellectual property world, having held editorial and managerial positions at several publications and industry organizations. She has acted as editorial consultant for the International Trademark Association (INTA), chiefly overseeing the editorial process for the Association’s twice-monthly newsletter, the INTA Bulletin. Eileen has also served as a freelance editor for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); as senior consulting editor for the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) from 2015 to 2017; as Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief at INTA from 2013 to 2016; and was Americas Editor for Managing Intellectual Property magazine from 2007 to 2013.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

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  1. Ternary May 20, 2020 11:58 pm

    The McRO case remains fascinating, and an ongoing drama, especially on what the Courts continue to accept as “established knowledge.”

    It is unclear to me if “the Developers” such as Bandai merely try to escape from McRO’s dominance of the technology or if they really have developed their own technology. But it is clear that they dig into limited and outdated concepts in computer math to defend to the Court their own position. Shame on them.

    One striking opinion is that a “vector” should be given a geometric interpretation as having 3D direction and size, according to the Court. McRO maintained that a vector “… should be construed as, simply, “an ordered set of numbers.” ” Which I would say is nowadays generally accepted. Especially as it relates to topology. A vector representing a delta between vertices in a graph is not necessarily a Newtonian vector. However, this interpretation was, incorrectly, rejected by the Court.

    One who works with computer instructions such as Matlab, knows that vectors per se have no other meaning than being a one dimensional array that may be provided for instance with an Euclidean norm, which may not have a physical distance meaning. While there is nothing wrong with trying to visualize a vector in a Newtonian mechanical sense, a vector representing a delta between two vertices in topological graph theory is not necessarily a Newtonian vector. The spec actually supports the McRO interpretation by teaching a morph weight which is a vector of 6 elements.

    It seems that the Courts in computer implemented inventions in general are woefully unprepared to assess the technological nature of these inventions, in particular when mathematical techniques that are well known in the art are applied and mis-characterized by opponents.

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