The Federal Circuit has triggered another debate over the proper scope of patent eligibility law. On June 11, a panel majority issued a precedential decision affirming the Alice invalidation of a digital camera patent asserted by inventors Yanbin Yu and Zhongxuan Zhang against Apple and Samsung, ruling that the patent was merely implementing the abstract idea of “taking two pictures . . . and using one picture to enhance the other in some way” using generic components rather than claiming a technological improvement. However, Circuit Judge Pauline Newman dissented, arguing that the majority’s decision improperly erodes the boundaries between patent eligibility and novelty/obviousness—and that the majority was wrong to apply Alice to what amounted to a mechanical invention.
Individual inventors Yanbin Yu and Zhongxuan Zhang have launched a campaign over a single digital camera patent, suing Apple (3:18-cv-06181) and Samsung (3:18-cv-06339), both in the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs target the provision of smartphones with dual-camera systems: for Apple, the rear camera systems of the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max, with the X, XS, and XS Max also accused of infringement through their front TrueDepth cameras; and for Samsung, the Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S9+, and Galaxy Note 9. In the new complaints, Yu and Zhang allege that the defendants learned of the patent-in-suit, at least in part, through the prosecution of their own applications concerning similar technologies before the USPTO.