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McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games Am. Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

September 13, 2016, Decided

2015-1080, 2015-1081, 2015-1082, 2015-1083, 2015-1084, 2015-1085, 2015-1086, 2015-1087, 2015-1088, 2015-1089, 2015-1090, 2015-1092, 2015-1093, 2015-1094, 2015-1095, 2015-1096, 2015-1097, 2015-1098, 2015-1099, 2015-1100, 2015-1101

Opinion

 [*1302]  [***1093]   Reyna, Circuit Judge.

This appeal is from a grant of judgment on the pleadings under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) that the asserted claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 6,307,576 ("the '576 patent") and 6,611,278 ("the '278 patent") are invalid. The United States District Court for the Central District of California found that the asserted claims are directed to patent-ineligible subject matter and are therefore invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 ("§ 101"). McRO, Inc. v. Sony Computer Entm't Am., LLC, 55 F. Supp. 3d 1214 (C.D. Cal. 2014) ("Patentability Op."). We hold that the ordered combination of claimed steps,  [*1303]  using unconventional rules that relate sub-sequences of phonemes, timings, and morph weight sets, is not directed to an abstract idea and is therefore patent-eligible subject matter under § 101. Accordingly, we reverse.

I. Background

A. [**4]  Factual Background

The '576 patent and the '278 patent were both issued to Maury Rosenfeld and are both titled "Method for Automatically Animating Lip Synchronization and Facial Expression of Animated Characters." The '278 patent is a continuation of the '576 patent and shares the same written description.

1. Admitted Prior Art

The patents relate to automating part of a preexisting 3-D animation method. As explained in the background of the patents, the admitted prior art method uses multiple 3-D models of a character's face to depict various facial expressions made during speech. See generally '576 patent col. 1 l. 14 to col. 2 l. 37. To animate the character as it speaks, the method morphs the character's expression between the models. The  [***1094]  "neutral model" is the 3-D representation of the resting, neutral facial expression of an animated character. The other models of the character's face are known as "morph targets," and each one represents that face as it pronounces a phoneme, i.e., makes a certain sound. This visual representation of the character's face making a sound is also called a "viseme." McRO Br. 7. An example morph target for the "ahh" phoneme is shown below. Each of these morph targets and the neutral model has identified points, [**5]  called "vertices," in certain places on the face. The set of differences in the location of these vertices (and the corresponding point on the face) between the neutral model and the morph target form a "delta set" of vectors representing the change in location of the vertices between the two models. For each morph target, there is a corresponding delta set consisting of the vectors by which the vertices on that morph target differ from the neutral model.

 [*1304]  

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837 F.3d 1299 *; 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16703 **; 120 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1091 ***

MCRO, INC., DBA PLANET BLUE, Plaintiff-Appellant v. BANDAI NAMCO GAMES AMERICA INC., NAUGHTY DOG, INC., KONAMI DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT, INC., SEGA OF AMERICA, INC., ELECTRONIC ARTS INC., OBSIDIAN ENTERTAINMENT, INC., DISNEY INTERACTIVE STUDIOS, INC., SQUARE ENIX, INC., NEVERSOFT ENTERTAINMENT, INC., TREYARCH CORPORATION, CAPCOM USA, INC., SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT AMERICA LLC, ATLUS U.S.A., INC., SUCKER PUNCH PRODUCTIONS, LLC, INFINITY WARD, INC., LUCASARTS, A DIVISION OF LUCASFILM ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY LTD. LLC, WARNER BROS. INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT, A DIVISION OF WARNER BROS. HOME ENTERTAINMENT INC., ACTIVISION PUBLISHING, INC., BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT, INC., VALVE CORPORATION, CODEMASTERS USA GROUP, INC., CODEMASTERS SOFTWARE INC., CODEMASTERS, INC., THE CODEMASTERS SOFTWARE COMPANY LIMITED, Defendants-Appellees

Prior History:  [**1] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Nos. 2:12-cv-10322-GWFFM, 2:12-cv-10323-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10327-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10329-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10331-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10333-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10335-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10337-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10338-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10341-GW-FFM, 2:12-cv-10342-GW-FFM, 8:13-cv-01870-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00332-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00336-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00358-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00383-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00352-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00417-GW-FFM, 8:13-cv-01874-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00389-GW-FFM, 2:14-cv-00439-GW-FFM, Judge George H. Wu.

McRO, Inc. v. Sony Computer Entm't Am., LLC, 55 F. Supp. 3d 1214, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135148 (C.D. Cal., 2014)

Disposition: REVERSED AND REMANDED.

CORE TERMS

patent, morph, animation, phoneme, abstract idea, district court, automate, synchronization, facial expression, lip, keyframe, target, technological, transition, automatically, invention, sequence, prior art, subject matter, first set, limitations, processes, output, stream, intermediate, unpatentable, rules-based, preemption, eligible, weights

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Patent Law, Jurisdiction & Review, Subject Matter, Utility Patents, Judgments, Pretrial Judgments, Judgment on Pleadings