Elbit Systems v. Thales Visionix (Fed. Cir. 2018)
In its IPR final decision, the PTAB sided with the patentee – holding that Elbit had failed to prove that the challenged claims of Thales patent were obvious. On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed – holding that “substantial evidence” supported the finding.
The challenged (U.S. Patent No. 6,474,159) is directed to a method for tracking motion relative to a moving platform. The claims basically require two inertial motion sensors and a processor “configured to determine an orientation of the object relative to the moving reference frame based on the signals received from the first and second inertial sensors.” The particular claims here are limited to include “angular” measurements.
The decision focuses primarily on the standard of review of PTAB factual findings – substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is a very low standard – simply requiring “more than a mere scintilla of evidence.” In re NuVasive, Inc., 842 F.3d 1376, 1379–80 (Fed. Cir. 2016). Although obviousness is a question of law, that legal conclusion must begin with evidence that serve as the foundation for factual conclusions. The ultimate legal conclusion of obviousness then is based upon the structure built by those factual conclusions.
Here, the PTAB made the factual finding that the prior art reference (McFarlane) did not teach the claimed “relative angular rate signal.” That finding was based upon presented evidence: both the prior art document and expert testimony regarding what was taught by the document. The patentee’s expert explained that the prior art calculated relative angular orientation using a different approach than that claimed by Thales (i.e., did not separately create an intermediary “angular rate signal”). Although the competing expert testified to the opposite (that the prior art approach is mathematically equivalent without any practical difference), the Board chose to believe the patentee’s expert based upon its conclusion that the competing expert did not provide credible citations to support those conclusion.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that the PTAB was the best position to determine expert credibility and thus declined to disturb those credibility determinations. Trs. of Columbia Univ. v. Illumina, Inc., 620 F. App’x 916, 922 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (“The PTAB [i]s entitled to weigh the credibility of the witnesses.”) The challenger’s attorneys attempted to support their case with an explanation that PHOSITA would understand the meaning the prior art – That argument was rejected on appeal, however, as attorney argument rather than evidence based. Rather, to make the argument, the party should have actually presented evidence on the level of understanding of a person of skill in the art.
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Note, I’m not sure, but this may be the first precedential decision holding that PTAB has power to weigh credibility of expert testimony in IPR proceedings. The concept was previously stated in Trs. of Columbia Univ. v. Illumina, Inc., 620 F. App’x 916, 922 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (“The PTAB [i]s entitled to weigh the credibility of the witnesses.”) VirnetX Inc. v. Apple Inc., 665 Fed. Appx. 880, 884 (Fed. Cir. 2016).
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Challenged Claim 3 is listed below:
1. A system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame, comprising:
a first inertial sensor mounted on the tracked object;
a second inertial sensor mounted on the moving reference frame; and
an element adapted to receive signals from said first and second inertial sensors and configured to determine an orientation of the object relative to the moving reference frame based on the signals received from the first and second inertial sensors.
2. The system of claim 1 in which the first and second inertial sensors each comprises three angular inertial sensors selected from the set of angular accelerometers, angular rate sensors, and angular position gyroscopes.
3. The system of claim 2, in which the angular inertial sensors comprise angular rate sensors, and the orientation of the object relative to the moving reference frame is determined by integrating a relative angular rate signal determined from the angular rate signals measured by the first and second inertial sensors.
Consider whether this is patent eligible.