Qualcomm wins Section 101 reversal for encoding scheme
It is no secret that it is hard to win Section 101 reversals at the PTAB. With Federal Circuit cases like Electric Power Group, LLC, any data processing or data manipulation invention can be easily rejected. It is also hard to move a case forward after a pervious affirmance by the PTAB. Here, Qualcomm overcame both of these hurdles to win a reversal for a video encoding invention.
Claim 1 on appeal is reproduced below and relates to a specify way of encoding videa data based on an estimated blurriness of the frame, the estimating using a refocusing statistic associated with the frame. Thus, claim 1 requires an estimation, which is purely a determination made in software, along with an encoding, also something that is purely within the software.
Yet, the PTAB reversed the Section 101 rejection. The Examiner had maintained that the claim was directed to an abstract idea, but actually never even identified what that abstract idea was. The rejection was typical of what has become common practice over the last few years:
The PTAB took issue with this approach noting that the claim was not directed to an abstract idea in the first place. While one may be tempted to chalk this one up to an unsupported rejection, the PTAB here did not introduce a new ground of rejection which indicates that they likely would not have sustained the rejection even if the Examiner had spent a little more time to meet the bare minimum requirements of a rejection.
Digging deeper into why the PTAB reversed, one could ascribe some importance to the fact that the specification described, in some detail, details of how the algorithm improved video encoding by using the estimate of the blurriness. Fig. 4 of the specification explained
Fig. 4 illustrates the focus value (FV) as a function of the lens position. The optimal focus of an original object is shown at FV0, but when a new object comes into frame and a refocus process occurs, tbe FV drops (from FV0 to FV1) before the lens moves. Then, the lens is adjusted step by step until it reaches the new optimal value (FV10). During the refocus process, the direction of movement is determined by finding which way causes the FV to increase. The blurriness level is determined for every frame until the new optimal focus is obtained. As such, this algorithm provides certain functionality that one can appreciate through every day life. Whether that had something to do with the decision, we will likely never know.
So, if you have claims that simply process data but your specification provides technical benefits and reasoning for these steps, your Section 101 rejection may not be hopeless before the PTAB, especially if the Examiner fails to even identify the alleged abstract idea in the first place.