Ride share patent invalidated for being indefinite. RIDEAPP v. LYFT

Ride share patent invalidated for being indefinite. RIDEAPP v. LYFT

A patent is a complicated document with several different sections.  The claims of a patent are like property lines on a map.  Elements of an invention can be described in the specification section of the patent, but if those elements are not claimed then the patent does not cover those elements.  All patent specifications shall conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the inventor or a joint inventor regards as the invention. 35 U.S.C. § 112(b).  The claim language must be “definite” to comply with 35 U.S.C. 112(b).

A patent claim is indefinite if it fails to inform a person having ordinary skill in the art about the scope of the invention,  with reasonable certainty.  Reasonable certainty does not require absolute or mathematical precision.  However case precedent has found patent claims to be indefinite when there is more than one way to measure a physical characteristic and the patent specification does not disclose how the inventor is measuring.  The primary purpose of this requirement of definiteness of claim language is to ensure that the scope of the claims is clear so the public is informed of the boundaries of what constitutes infringement of the patent.

Normally the United States Patent and Trademark Office will refuse to issue a patent when a patent claim is indefinite. The inventor will be required to amend the patent application to provide enough information so that the enablement requirement is satisfied.  But sometimes the United States Patent and Trademark Office misses something and a patent gets issued which does not fulfill the definiteness requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112(b).

RIDEAPP INC., v. LYFT, INC., 2020-1284 (C.A.F.C. 2021) is an example of a patent that was found to be invalid because it was indefinite.

Plaintiff in this case owns U.S. Patent No. 6,697,730 (’730 patent). The ’730 patent is directed to an urban transit system based on digital cellular communications and GPS locating technology to provide real-time command and control of passengers and vehicles. A “central assigning system” (CAS) communicates with and collects data from both passengers and vehicles in the system.  The CAS is “capable of matching a passenger’s trip request with current transit parameters to determine vehicle assignment and routes that reduce passenger trip and wait times, wherein the current transit parameters and passenger location are obtained via wireless communication devices optionally capable of transmitting location data.

Defendant operates a ride and bike share service.  Plaintiff sued Defendant alleging that Defendant’s service infringed on Plaintiff’s patent when “a passenger uses the Lyft App to request or locate a ride and, through the Lyft App, a driver accepts the request.”  During the claim construction portion of the trial, Defendant argued that the patent was indefinite because the mathematical functions claimed in the patent were not defined.  Specifically the patent used “means-plus-function” claim language but did not properly define the function in the specification. The district court agreed with Defendant as to each of the identified means-plus-function limitations, invalidated the patent, and entered judgement in favor of the Defendant. Plaintiff then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

On appeal the Plaintiff argued that the functions were simple calculations that would not affect the scope of the patent. The Federal Circuit noted that construing means-plus-function terms requires first identifying the claimed functions of the phrase and second determining what structure disclosed in the specification performs that function.  For a patent to satisfy this standard, a skilled artisan must be able to recognize the structure in the specification and associate it with the corresponding function in the claim.  A computer-implemented, means-plus-function claim element is, by definition, limited to the disclosed algorithm and equivalent algorithms.  The Federal Circuit found that patent claimed functions, without explaining how to perform those functions in the specification.  Based on these findings the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.

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