Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cognex, MVTec and Bilski

July 4th is a pretty big deal where I live, so although the 4th actually falls on a Sunday I had planned to take the 5th as holiday. (All this blogging is hard graft, and I need a break too y’know!)

But in a very polite email, Lutz Kreutzer of MVTec suggested that I get back to work by commenting on the latest development their legal wrangle with Cognex. The news actually broke a few days ago and it seemed pretty widely disseminated so I wasn’t sure I needed to add my two cents, but to keep Lutz happy I will do just that.

The big news was that on June 22nd the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cancelled all claims of US Patent 6,850,646 that Cognex had asserted against MVTec. To understand what this means, I took a look at the particular patent.

With the scintillating title of “Fast, high-accuracy multi-dimensional pattern inspection,” the ‘646 patent basically covers the PatQuick™ pattern matching algorithm. I will admit that I did not plow through the entire patent – my insomnia isn’t that bad – but it seems to cover a lot of the geometric pattern matching technology at the heart of Cognex’s IP and their dispute with MVTec.

In other words, by invalidating much of the patent (it’s not clear to me that whether or not the entire patent has been invalidated,) the USPTO has severely weakened Cognex’s case. No wonder Lutz wanted to make a big song and dance about it.

But what does all this have to do with Bilski?

Well, after lengthy consideration, the US Supreme Court finally issued a ruled on the Bilski case. This concerned the question of whether software can be patented. Unfortunately, the ruling was not particularly clear (see here for a summary) but the court seems to be leaning against the patentability of business methods software.

This too seems to be in MVTec’s favor as pattern-matching, along with many other software algorithm-type patents, is probably lumped under the “business methods” heading.

One thing is for sure though: the legal people working for Cognex are likely to be studying their briefs over this long weekend!

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