In re Kahn

Decision Date22 March 2006
Docket NumberNo. 04-1616.,04-1616.
Citation441 F.3d 977
PartiesIn re Leonard R. KAHN.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit

Leonard R. Kahn, pro se, of New York, New York.

John M. Whealan, Solicitor, Office of the Solicitor, United States Patent and Trademark Office, of Arlington, Virginia, for the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. With him on the brief were Linda Moncys Isacson and Raymond T. Chen, Associate Solicitors. Of counsel was Mary L. Kelly.

Before MICHEL, Chief Judge, LINN, and PROST, Circuit Judges.

LINN, Circuit Judge.

Leonard R. Kahn ("Kahn") appeals from the final decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences ("Board") concluding that claims 1-20 in patent application number 08/773,282 ("the '282 application") are unpatentable as obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103.1 Because the factual findings underlying the Board's conclusion are supported by substantial evidence, and because the Board did not commit legal error in concluding that the claims would have been obvious, we affirm.

A. The Invention

The '282 application, filed on December 24, 1996 as a continuation-in-part of a series of continuing applications dating back to 1989, involves a "reading machine" that may be used by the blind. Prior to the application, machines that employed memory and display components by which material could be "read" using hand-held optical pens and speech synthesizers were known in the art. While a user can control these devices by hand to repeat words and to read at various speeds, such control is cumbersome, which makes it difficult for a blind user to study complex publications. Kahn addressed this problem and claims invention in a device that is operated by eye control and sound localization such that it can read out loud the word "looked at" by the user.

Kahn treats claims 1-20 as a group with claim 1 being representative:

1. A reading machine suitable for use by totally blind individuals for reading the complete text, or a selected portion thereof, of a document stored in storage means, at the option of the user, comprising:

(a) means of storing at least a portion of the text of the document to be read,

(b) means for retrieving a selected portion of said stored text made available for immediate "reading,"

(c) means for producing an acoustical display of the selected portion of said stored text, in a page-like format,

(d) means for determining the location on the acoustical display towards which the user is "looking," and

(e) means for generating speech sounds verbalizing the word that is formatted to appear on the acoustical display at the location the user is "looking" towards.

A preferred embodiment of the '282 patent is illustrated below in Figure 1.


In operation,

[t]he information being "read" ... is fed through intermediate storage means to speech synthesizer means for converting the written information to electrical waves representing speech sounds. These electric waves are fed to ... a four speaker array wherein the speakers are located in a fashion so that the artificial sound image can be placed at various points on the artificial screen or page allowing the user to hear the words at the desired locations. These locations would be selected by the user looking at a specific location on the artificial screen or page.

The user would then move his or her eyes to "look" where the next word would be expected to appear, i.e., directly to the right of the spoken word. This would then cause the next word to be "spoken" and the sound image would appear slightly to the right. This motion is achieved by energizing the four speaker array with different levels of audio power....

When the user completes the "reading" of the last word on the page, ... the reader would have the option of rereading a section on the page or causing the page to be "turned." If the user wishes to reread ..., he can direct his attention to the material to be reread by "looking" at the portion of the page where he remembers hearing the material.

On the other hand, if he wishes to continue reading the material he can turn the page by looking along the bottom line past the right hand edge of the "page". The first word on the new page would be heard when the reader directed his or her attention to the upper left hand corner of the page where the first word on the new page would be expected.

'282 application at 11-13.

According to the specification, the device can employ a conventional scanner to input data; a conventional character recognition device to translate and send data to a storage device; and a page generator to take data from the storage device and format it for a visual display and for a word selector, the latter of which can send the data to a conventional speech synthesizer. After an optical sensor detects where a user is "looking" and a word is "selected" for vocalization, the synthesizer feeds an audio signal to a localizer control. Loud speakers are arranged at the corners of the "page" to allow the user to confirm localization of sound. The specification further indicates that

[t]here are a number of devices available for sensing where an individual is looking. For example, Garwin et. al. 4,595,990 ..., Anderson et. al. 4,579,533... and Stanton 4,322,744 .... More specifically, Anderson's [sic] patent discusses feed-back which may be visual, auditory or tactile to verify decisions by eye control equipment.

However, such inventions are not suitable for totally blind individuals who are not verifying where they are looking but are using their eyes to direct which part of the artificial page should be read to produce a sound image. This makes essential a two dimensional stereo sound stage which the blind person solely depends upon.

'282 application at 16.

B. The Prior Art

The Board's rejection was based on Garwin et al., U.S. Patent No. 4,595,990 (issued June 17, 1986) ("Garwin"), in view of Anderson et al., U.S. Patent No. 4,406,626 (issued Sept. 27, 1983) ("Anderson '626"), Anderson et al., U.S. Patent No. 4,579,533 (issued April 1, 1986) ("Anderson '533"), and Stanton, U.S. Patent No. 4,322,744 (issued March 30, 1982) ("Stanton"). The Board alternatively used Anderson '626 or '533 as primary references.

Garwin discloses an eye-controlled interactive information processor that senses the portion of a visual display at which the user is looking. The processor is connected to the display, which, in turn, can be partitioned so that different information is displayed in discrete areas. By gazing in different directions, the user informs the processor of the displayed item that is selected. Garwin, col. 2, ll. 60-68. The preferred embodiment employs a reflected light eye-tracking device to determine where the user is looking. Id., col. 3, l. 66-col. 4, l. 62. The eye-interactive control generally uses a technique where the user is presented with a number of targets having some meaning, such as "words or phrases" displayed on screen. Id., col. 9, ll. 62-67. "Visual, auditory or tactile" feedback is then given to the user to indicate that a selection has been received. Id., col. 2, ll. 10-11; col. 11, ll. 59-64. The user then can verify or cancel the selection. Id., col. 10, ll. 1-6. Garwin states that "it will be apparent to one skilled in the art that ... the benefits of the invention will be achieved by many types of apparatus." Id., col. 2, ll. 50-53. It can be used for "request[ing] display of a page of text from a ... table of contents," id., col. 3, ll. 42-44, or "[other] presentation of textual material," id., col. 10, ll. 31-33.

Anderson '626 discloses an interactive "electronic teaching aid" which enables a user viewing text on a display to designate any words or portion of text for immediate audible vocalization. Anderson '626, col. 1, l. 8; col. 2, ll. 11-17. The components include: a selector switch, which when in the "text" position, causes data to be transmitted to a monitor and displayed in legible form, id., col. 3, ll. 27-31; an advance button, which when depressed allows the user to select and retrieve the next page of text from memory, id., col. 3, ll. 31-41; a memory, which can store each word of the text coded for speech, id., col. 3, l. 66-col. 4, l. 6; and a word designator light pen, which the user can place on a word to hear the word vocalized through the speaker, id., col. 3, ll. 54-68; col. 10, ll. 51-58. Anderson '533 discloses an improved microprocessor-based version of Anderson '626. Anderson '533, col. 1, ll. 19-24, 41-56.

Stanton discloses an acoustical imaging system for use by visually impaired individuals that uses horizontal and vertical directional sound to represent visual aspects of an environment. Stanton states that a user can locate "the position of a virtual sound source as representing a point in space" such that different signals may represent different directions. Stanton, col. 1, ll. 58-61. The preferred embodiment features four loud speakers or transducers mounted at the corners of a vertical display panel. Id., col. 2, ll. 54-55. When the user moves the cursor, the sound emanating from the speakers is phase shifted to produce a virtual sound seeming to come from a particular location related to the position of the cursor. Id., col. 1, l. 66-col. 2, l. 2; col. 2, ll. 55-63. In another embodiment, a quadraphonic headset is used in place of the transducers to achieve the effect of producing a virtual sound identifying a position. Id., col. 4, ll. 26-35. Stanton states that the device may be used as a "rudimentary reading device." Id., col. 1, ll. 62.

C. The Board Decisions

Kahn filed the '282 application with 22 claims as a continuation-in-part of application number 07/645,102 ("the '102 application"), which was filed in 1991. The '102 application was a continuation-in-part of a series of abandoned continuing applications...

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