The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), on occasion, publishes certain Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) decisions as precedential or informative. An informative decision provides PTAB norms on recurring issues, guidance on PTAB rules and practices, and guidance on issues that may develop through the analysis of recurring issues. The latest set of informative decisions includes an informative § 101 decision - Ex parte Linden – which is discussed below.
The claimed invention in Ex parte Linden is directed to "state-of-the-art speech recognition systems developed using end-to-end deep learning. In embodiments, the model architecture is significantly simpler than traditional speech systems, which rely on laboriously engineered processing pipelines; these traditional systems also tend to perform poorly when used in noisy environments." The claimed invention, on the other hand, does not need hand-designed components to model background noise, reverberation, or speaker variation because it can "handle challenging noisy environments better than widely used, state-of-the-art commercial speech systems."
Claim 11 is representative of the claimed invention, which reads as:
A computer-implemented method for transcribing speech comprising: receiving an input audio from a user;
normalizing the input audio to make a total power of the input audio consistent with a set of training samples used to train a trained neural network model;
generating a jitter set of audio files from the normalized input audio by translating the normalized input audio by one or more time values;
for each audio file from the jitter set of audio files, which includes the normalized input audio:
generating a set of spectrogram frames for each audio file;
inputting the audio file along with a context of spectrogram frames into a trained neural network;
obtaining predicted character probabilities outputs from the trained neural network;
decoding a transcription of the input audio using the predicted character probabilities outputs from the trained neural network constrained by a language model that interprets a string of characters from the predicted character probabilities outputs as a word or words.
The Examiner rejected the representative claim and its dependents under § 101 and found that the claims were using "the predicted character probabilities (mathematical formula) to decode a transcription of the input audio into words or text data." Citing Gottschalk v. Benson, the Examiner found that the claims were directed to a mathematical concept, manipulating data, and generating information based on prior information – the last two being methods of organizing human activity and mental processes. At step two, the Examiner determined that the claims did not amount to significantly more than decoding a transcription using a mathematical formula or relationship.
The PTAB, applying the 2019 updated eligibility guidelines, disagreed with the Examiner. First, the PTAB said that the claims involved a mental process or a method of organizing human activity because, while transcription can be performed by a human, "the claims here are directed to a specific implementation including the steps of normalizing an input file, generating a jitter set of audio files," and so on.
Next, the PTAB found that the claims didn't recite a mathematical concept. The specification disclosed an algorithm. However, the claims do not recite the algorithm and, under the updated guidelines, this is not abstract.
Even if the claims were directed to an abstract idea, the PTAB found that the claims are integrated into a practical application – "specific features that were specifically designed to achieve an improved technological result and provide improvements to that technical field." For instance, the PTAB specifically referenced the specification describing a trained neural network that achieves better performance than traditional methods on difficult speech recognition.
Lastly, the PTAB found that the Examiner's finding that the claims did not include additional elements that amount to significantly more than the judicial exception to be conclusory in light of Berkheimer because the Examiner did not provide sufficient factual support for the findings. Accordingly, the PTAB reversed the Examiner's rejection.
Ex parte Linden and other precedential and informative decisions can be read here.