Lidar Patent Upheld

Competitor could not convince PTAB to invalidate patent

The Federal Circuit affirmed a decision from the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) that rejected challenges in an inter partes review (IPR) to a patent that improved “lidar-based” systems for detecting objects, such as those used in autonomous cars.

The meaning of “lidar-based” was a primary point of contention. As it was an IPR challenging validity and because broad claims are easier to invalidate than narrow ones, the patent challenger sought to apply a broad meaning to the term “lidar” to mean a system relying on “time-of-flight” measurements and any other system that provided imaging, detection, and ranging. The challenger’s position was based on a deconstruction of the acronym “lidar” and the now-defunct “broadest reasonable construction” standard then available for IPRs.

The Federal Circuit held that the patent only applies to “time-of-flight” based systems and that a broader construction was unreasonable. To reach that conclusion, it criticized the deconstruction of the “lidar” acronym as doing little to explain the term’s meaning in light of the specification. And the specification focuses exclusively on pulsed time-of-flight lidar and purports to be an improvement on similar “time-of-flight” systems for autonomous vehicle navigation. The Federal Circuit also batted down an argument that because the claim states “lidar” instead of “pulsed time-of-flight lidar,” it must have a broader meaning, noting that the argument assumes its conclusion.

Based on the narrow claim construction, the finding of non-obviousness was affirmed. The Federal Circuit found substantial evidence that the prior art reference did not use “time-of-flight” measurements and approved how the PTAB credited the patentee’s evidence of unresolved long-felt need, industry praise, and commercial success, which provided objective evidence of non-obviousness.