Once upon a time, there were three bears. Papa Bear took a picture of the family. “This picture has poor contrast,” said Papa Bear. Mama Bear took a picture of the cat. “This picture has poor color,” said Mama Bear. “Wait a minute,” said Baby Bear, “if we take four pictures simultaneously of red, green, blue and B/W through two different different lenses, with each lens exposing two different detectors (for a total of four detectors), and digitize the detector signals separately, we can make the camera much simpler and combine the images electronically to make pictures that are just right.” So Baby Bear patented her new camera.
One day Goldilocks came to the Bear’s house. Finding no one, she came in and tried Baby Bear’s camera. It was just right! So Goldilocks took Baby Bear’s camera and put it in all of her smartphones. All of Goldilocks’ friends put it in their smartphones as well. Goldilocks and her friends and their shareholders made lots of money selling smartphones with Baby Bear’s camera.
So Baby Bear sued Goldilocks and her friends for infringement.
The trial judge looked down from the bench and said: “your invention is nothing more than using one photo to improve another photo, which photographers have done for a century. That’s an unpatentable abstract idea. Case dismissed.”
Baby Bear appealed to a three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit Court. The first and second judge looked down from the bench and said: “your invention is nothing more than using one photo to improve another photo, which photographers have done for a century. That’s an unpatentable abstract idea. Appeal denied.”
The third judge, Judge Newman, said to the other two: “Nonsense. Baby Bear claimed a camera with specific structure that performs specific tasks, which is not abstract. You’re confusing whether an invention is abstract with whether the invention is new. An invention is not abstract because it’s old. That’s a different question entirely.” Of course, Judge Newman’s statements were in dissent, so Baby Bear’s appeal was denied anyway.
Baby Bear asked the Supreme Court for help, but the Supreme Court doesn’t take a patent case unless it can screw things up worse. Since the Federal Circuit had already done an excellent job of that, the Supreme Court denied Baby Bear’s petition.
The case is Yu vs Apple and Samsung. Note that the quotes above are, well, not exactly verbatim.
— Robert Yarbrough, Esq.