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Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

March 8, 2017

THALES VISIONIX INC., Plaintiff-Appellant
UNITED STATES, Defendant-Appellee ELBIT SYSTEMS OF AMERICA, LLC, Third Party Defendant-Appellee

         Appeal from the United States Court of Federal Claims in No. 1:14-cv-00513-TCW, Judge Thomas C. Wheeler.

          Meredith Martin Addy, Tabet DiVito & Rothstein, LLC, Chicago, IL, argued for plaintiff-appellant. Also represented by Ashley Crettol Insalaco, Daniel I. Konieczny.

          Andrew Paul Zager, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for defendant-appellee. Also represented by Benjamin C. Mizer, John J. Fargo.

          Kurt Calia, Covington & Burling LLP, Redwood Shores, CA, argued for third party defendant-appellee. Also represented by John Arthur Kelly, Matthew Aaron Kudzin, Ranganath Sudarshan, Washington, DC.

          Jeffrey A. Lamken, MoloLamken LLP, Washington, DC, for amicus curiae BSA | The Software Alliance. Also represented by Michael Gregory Pattillo, Jr.

          Before Moore, Wallach, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.


         Thales Visionix, Inc. ("TVI") appeals from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ("Claims Court") judgment on the pleadings holding that claims 1-5, 11-13, 20, 22-26, 32- 34, and 41 of U.S. Patent No. 6, 474, 159 ("'159 patent") are directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. Thales Visionix, Inc. v. United States, 122 Fed.Cl. 245, 257 (2015). We reverse the Claims Court's determination for all claims and remand for further proceedings.


         The '159 patent discloses an inertial tracking system for tracking the motion of an object relative to a moving reference frame. '159 patent at 1:54-56. Inertial sensors, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes, measure the specific forces associated with changes in a sensor's position and orientation relative to a known starting position. Such sensors are used in a wide variety of applications, including aircraft navigation and virtual reality simulations. When mounted on a moving object, inertial sensors can calculate the position, orientation, and velocity of the object in 3-dimensional space, based on a specified starting point, without the need for any other external information. Because small errors in the measurement of acceleration and angular velocity translate to large errors in position over time, inertial systems generally include at least one other type of sensor, such as an optical or magnetic sensor, to intermittently correct these errors that compound over time.

         The patent disclosure recognized that conventional solutions for tracking inertial motion of an object on a moving platform were flawed because both object- and platform-based inertial sensors measured motion relative to earth, and the error-correcting sensors on the tracked object measured position relative to the moving platform. Id. at 1:23-42. Attempting to fuse this data produced inconsistent position information when the moving platform accelerated or turned. Id.

         The inertial sensors disclosed in the '159 patent do not use the conventional approach of measuring inertial changes with respect to the earth. Id. at 7:12-23. Instead, the platform (e.g., vehicle) inertial sensors directly measure the gravitational field in the platform frame. Id. at 7:12-49, fig. 3D. The object (e.g., helmet) inertial sensors then calculate position information relative to the frame of the moving platform. Id. at 7:41-67, 8:1-17, fig. 3D. By changing the reference frame, one can track the position and orientation of the object within the moving platform without input from a vehicle attitude reference system or calculating orientation or position of the moving platform itself. Id. at 8:34-41.

         There are multiple advantages of the disclosed system over the prior art. First, it increases the accuracy with which inertial sensors measure the tracked object on the moving frame. Id. at 11:31-34. When the moving platform accelerates or turns, the inertial sensor on the platform directly measures the gravitational effect in the moving reference frame and the system therefore requires fewer measured inputs (and fewer points of potential error) to determine the position and orientation of the tracked object. Id. at 8:34-37. Second, the disclosed system can operate independently, without requiring other hardware on the moving platform that determine the orientation or position of the moving ...

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