Sleepiness Detection Algorithm's Limitations Held Indefinite

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sometimes we read a patent case and we just want to skip it because our eyes begin to glaze over at the sight of numbers and graphs (there's a reason why we went to law school, no?). But, when it comes down to it, you have to cut through the thicket of mathematical equations and get to the root of the matter. Today, we did just that, so you don't have to. You're welcome.

Here's the latest case in patent litigation coming out of the Federal Circuit.

Sleepiness Detection for Vehicle Driver or Machine Operator

Ibormeith IP, LLC is the assignee of Patent No. 6,313,749 ("'749"), entitled Sleepiness Detection for Vehicle Driver or Machine Operator. Patent '749 provides a method for determining a driver's sleepiness, and sending a warning to the driver. To determine sleepiness, various factors are considered including circadian rhythm, the driver's steering, the length of time driving, the driver's recent sleep patterns, and more.

Ibormeith sued Mercedes-Benz USA for patent infringement; at issue were two claims of patent '749, both having to do with computational means elements for specified functions required under 35 U.S.C. § 112(f). Claim 1 related to "sleepiness-related time-of-day information," and Claim 9 focused on "the driver's steering."

The district court granted summary judgment for Mercedes because of indefiniteness, and Ibormeith appealed.

Structure Required for "Computational Means"

The Federal Circuit reviewed Ibormeith's own experts' testimony, as well as the Tables and Graphs that were a part of the '749 patent, and reached the same conclusion as the district court.

The Federal Circuit found that the information contained in the tables and graphs were not a concrete formula, but rather, a description of an algorithm "with no limitations on how values are calculated, combined or weighted" and therefore, not sufficient. The Federal Circuit held, "we conclude, the disclosed algorithm does not adequately define the structure."

Patent owners (and attorneys) of computation means-based patents should take heed, and make sure that algorithms provide sufficient certainty in order to receive full patent protection.

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