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Minelab Electronics Pty Ltd. v. Xp M Detectors

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 28, 2017

MINELAB ELECTRONICS PTY LTD, Plaintiff,
v.
XP M DETECTORS and DETECTOR ELECTRONICS CORP., Defendants.

          OPINION

          MARK R. HORNAK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Minelab Electronics PTY LTD ("Plaintiff) filed this lawsuit alleging that XP M Detectors and Detector Electronics Corp. ("Defendants") are contributorily infringing Claims 10 and 15 of U.S. Patent 7, 310, 586 ("'586 Patent"), of which Plaintiff is the assignee. Defendants moved to dismiss under 35 U.S.C. § 101, arguing that the claims at issue are directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. The parties fully briefed the issues, ECF Nos. 22-24, 27, and the motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Metal detecting, it turns out, is not as simple as one would think. Unless the operator achieves some level of proficiency in setting the parameters on the m detector, she might end up turning up targets that she has no interest in finding (what's called "trash" in m detector parlance), while leaving behind the stuff that she actually wants to find. Setting those parameters just right is apparently no easy task, so the inventors of the '586 patent set out to create a better detector. They also saw another problem with prior art m detectors in need of solving: because "the nature of the predominant 'trash'" and "[t]he nature of the desired target" changes from one place to another, a detectorist had to "own several complete detectors to enjoy the advantage of having maximal sensitivity to disparate targets in different environments" - one to find gold, for example, and one to find relics. '586 Patent, col.1, ll. 33-37.

         The inventors proposed to address these two problems by creating a m detector that could receive operating parameter data from an external source (either a computer or another m detector), store the data in electronic memory within the m detector, and modify the operating parameters of the m detector "to conform to the set of values of operating parameters specified by the operating parameter data." ECF No. 18, at 5 ¶ 22. As they saw it, this would allow "a less skilled operator ... to successfully use a single m detector in multiple operating environments and with different types of targets and trash." Id. The claimed method also allows that "less skilled operator" to "benefit from the knowledge of a more experienced operator or the wisdom of the detecting community" by allowing members of the detecting community to share operating parameter data with each other. Id.

The claimed invention is described in the Abstract as:
A metal detector adapted to generate a transmit search signal and to receive a receive search signal, and to analyse such received search signal, wherein the detector is adapted to allow a selection of operating parameters for each of these functions, said selection being effected by the storage as data in a memory of such selection, charaterised in that the detector is adapted to allow such stored data to be modified in accordance with data in an external store, further characterised in that there is a digital data communication transmission program, adapted to effect a transmission of some or all of the stored data through a data transmission means to enable a further m detector to receive and store for use in such further detector the said data.

'586 Patent, Abstract. The patent includes three independent claims (claims 1, 10, and 16).

Claim one reads:
1. A m detector adapted to general a transmit search signal and to receive a search signal, and to analyze such received search signal, wherein the detector is adapted to allow a selection of operating parameters for said receipt and analysis, said selection being effected by storage of data in a memory, characterised in that the detector is adapted to allow such stored data to be modified to align with stored data in an external store, wherein the external store is a memory which is both outside of and spaced from the m detector, and also from the memory within the m detector which stores the data effecting the operating parameters;
further comprising a digital data communications program, adapted to effect a transmission of some or all of the stored data through a data transmission link, thereby enabling a further m detector to receive and store, for use in such further detector, said data,
and wherein the operating parameters to be selected include a discrimination pattern, said discrimination pattern including at least one range of amplitude of a conductance component of a receive search signal and at least one range of amplitude of an inductive component of a receive search signal.

'586 Patent, col. 8, 11. 39-59. Claims two through nine depend from claim one.

         Claim 10 reads:

         10. A method for operating a m detector of a type which includes the ability to select values of operating parameters and to store such values as data, the method including the steps of:

a. receiving operating parameter data via an electronic transmission link from a data source external to the m detector, the operating parameter data being a set of values of operating parameters,
b. storing the operating parameter data in an electronic memory within the m detector, and
c. modifying the operating parameters of the m detector to conform to the set of values of operating parameters specified by the operating parameter data, wherein the electronic transmission link includes a wireless connection transmitting through space between the m detector and the external data sources.

'586 Patent, col. 9 11. 22-36. Claims 11 through 15 depend from claim 10

and recite "[a] method for operating a m detector as in claim 10 wherein the data are received from another detector of the same or similar type;" "wherein the data are received from a computer[;]" "wherein the computer received the data by download from a remote computer system by way of a network of computers[;]" "wherein the electronic transmission link includes a detachable wired connection leading from ...

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