August 15, 2019

E.D. North Carolina Axes Patent Directed to Teaching Guitar

Holland & Knight Section 101 Blog
Anthony J. Fuga

Rocksmith sued Yousician Oy, alleging infringement of its patent entitled "interactive guitar game." The patent discloses software for learning to play the guitar and provides an "effective way to provide interactive method and system for learning and practicing a musical instrument, which provides both audio and visual feedback, and an integrated learning approach."

The asserted claims include altering the difficulty level by "changing a frequency" of the fingering notations, utilizing acoustic or electric guitar, and recommending appropriate songs based on past performances.

Yousician moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the patent was directed to the abstract idea of teaching guitar by evaluating a user’s performance and generating appropriate exercises.

The court agreed and found that the asserted independent claim includes the following basic steps:

  1. Presenting fingering notations corresponding to a song
  2. Listening to a user’s performance of that song
  3. Assessing the performance and determining a portion that should be improved
  4. Based on the assessment, selectively changing a difficulty level of a portion of the fingering notation, and
  5. Generating a “mini-game” to improve the user’s skill for that portion

The court found that these steps are steps a typical music teacher performs when teaching a musical instrument. Here, they are just implemented using a generic computer. "The claims at issue do not claim a particular way of programming or designing the software." Instead, the claims are focused on a certain functionality and are not directed to a specific improvement in the way computers operate.

The court noted that the only arguable inventive concept in the patent relates to changing the difficulty level of a song in real time during the playing of the song and in response to the ongoing assessment of the performance. This, however, also failed because there is no discussion regarding how this is to be accomplished, beyond that which a music teacher can provide.

Plaintiff pointed to the prosecution history as confirming certain of the claim elements were not known in the prior art, But the court dismissed that argument: "That these activities were not known in the prior art is not relevant to the present inquiry. The claimed step of generating a mini-game is not a solution to a computer functionality problem but the disclosure of training exercises that historically have been employed by music teachers."

Similarly, plaintiff stressed that the claims were all found to be patentable during prosecution. The court again dismissed the argument and noted that the examiner first rejected the claims based on Section 101, and the claims were only allowed after an amendment related to "generating at least one mini-game . . ." But this amendment is not a technological improvement or an advance in computer function.

The court reviewed the specification and claims and determined that they do not claim any new hardware or other technology. And while the plaintiff mentioned a "guitar input device" as being non-generic, the court noted that there is no description of such a device in the specification.

The court, accordingly, dismissed the case with prejudice.

Claim 1 of the asserted patent reads: 

A non-transitory computer readable storage medium with a computer program stored thereon, wherein the computer program is operable to present an interactive game for playing a song on a guitar, wherein the computer program instructs one or more processors to perform the steps of:

presenting, on a display device, a plurality of fingering notations corresponding to the song to be played by a user;

receiving, from a guitar input device, an analog or digital audio signal when the guitar is played by the user, wherein the received signal corresponds to the song played by the user; assessing a performance of the song as played by the user,

based on the assessed performance, determining a portion of the performance that should be improved;

based on the assessed performance and the determined portion of the performance that should be improved, selectively changing a difficulty level of at least a portion of the presented plurality of fingering notations corresponding to the song; and generating at least one mini-game different from the game for the song being played targeted to improving the user’s skills associated with the performance of the determined portion.

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