Can Automated Patent Searching take the heat out of a laser patent dispute against Levi and Gap?

As reported in the World Intellectual Property Review, fashion icons Levi Strauss and Gap have been accussed in a Texan court of infringing a patent owned by Icon Laser Solutions, a limited liability company in Texas. The patent itself is US5567207, filed in 1994 for a Method for marking and fading textiles with lasers, and claiming in its first claim:

1. A method for color fading, dyed textile materials with a laser, comprising the steps of:
– placing under a laser beam a dyed textile material; and
– scanning the laser beam generated by the laser with a selected set of parameters to fade the dye of the textile material to replicate a uniformly faded textile or a stone washed, acid washed or acid ball washed textile.



But is this patent valid? This of course will depend on the prior art for this patent. The patent examiner for this patent cited seven prior art documents, but are there more relevant patents? Interestingly, the applicant discussed six of these patents in the specification, but concluded: 

Unlike the above patents, the present invention uses an environmentally safe method for marking, fading and treating textile fabrics with a laser without the need for conventional washing methods, wet dyes, or excessive amounts of water.

Finding relevant patents is an ideal question for our newly developed service, Automated Patent Searching. This process uses the broader citation network to search for patents not previously cited, but which could be relevant to the patent in question – and which may be missed by conventional patent searching.

The resulting report can be downloaded here. Besides ranking the seven known backward citationsby similarity, we also rank 50 uncited prior art documents. A quick review of the title suggested that US4589884 Process for heat treating textile substrates to give colored pattern could be relevant. This was filed in 1985 by Milliken Research Corporation and published in 1986, some 8 years before the Icon patent.

Among other disclosures, this document discloses:

This invention relates to a process for dyeing textile substrates in a pattern configuration. In one embodiment thereof, this invention relates to a process for simultaneously dyeing and thermally modifying components of a textile substrate in a pattern configuration

It should be understood that any suitable method for applying sufficient heat to the substrate to fix the desired quantity of dye as well as generate thermally induced modifications to the substrate may be used in connection with this invention. For example, a laser of the appropriate type may be modulated according to pattern information and scanned over the surface of the substrate to induce fixation of the dye and, optionally, fiber shrinkage, fusing, etc., in a desired pattern configuration

Does this disclose the Icon patent? There are arguments for and against – with the latter including that the Milliken patent uses the laser to fix the dye, as opposed to fading a fixed dye. Similarly the Icon patent claims the use of the laser to replicate a uniformly faded textile or a stone washed, acid washed or acid ball washed textile – but some might say that this fake fading is simply a type of ‘pattern’.

This raises the question of what patents were cited against the Icon patent. The Automated Search Report ranks each of the seven backward citation patents in order of suggested similarity, and five of these are listed in the table below


Predicted Similarity Rank

Patent and filing year

Listed patent owner


Relevant disclosure

Amberscore’ (links to AmberScope)


DE3916126 (1989)

Kuesters Eduard Maschf

Process to print a pattern on textile fabrics – utilises irradiation to form the design

Use of laser to change colour of dye of fabric, to  create a pattern



US5017423 (1986)

German Textile Research Centre


Fiber, filament, yarn and/or flat articles and/or nonwoven material containing these, as well as a process for producing the former

Use of laser to change material before dyeing – let to changes in dye absorption



US4861620 (1987)


Method of laser marking

Use of laser to change the colour of a pigment on an unspecified ‘material’



JPH05278237 (1992)

Not provided

Laser marking of heat sensitive dye

Laser marking of heat sensitive dyes during the manufacture of airbags


(no link to AmberScope)


So unlike some previous case studies, we have not been able to find prior art that is directly relevant to the novelty of the patent being reviewed. Regardless, this case study highlights another benefit of this type of analysis, namely that it can be used to understand the general patent landscape close to the patent of interest. And indeed this is the single biggest reason why clients have requested Automated Search Reports, so that they can quickly understand this landscape.

And in many cases, understanding the landscape could also help to frame arguments about whether a patented invention is inventive (or not) over the prior art – which will be helped in this case as the Milliken patent had not been previously cited, and so could be potentially used as the basis for a rexamination for the Icon patent.


Want to research the similarity landscape of your own patent?

Just $500 and about one working day will buy you any of the three types of reports

  • Prior Art Finder search report (Automated search for earlier patents)
  • Licensee Finder (Automated search for later patents)
  • Similar patent search (Automated search for both earlier and later patents) 

Select any of the above for a patent of your choosing. Please contact us to discuss your requirement further


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Can metadata be used to find relevant and important patents?

The US based National Security Agency (NSA) has been in the news a lot recently due to its activities, which include the collection and analysis of telephone and internet records. While the exact nature of this analysis is both confidential and controversial, it is thought to include analysis of websites visited, and links between people as expressed via email and message traffic, and calls made. This type of analysis is often referred to as ‘metadata’ analysis, where metadata can be defined as ‘data about data’. 

But is not only the NSA that understands the value of metadata. As discussed by Maria Konnikova’s excellent article on MIT’s human dynamics scientist Dr Alex Pentland, the likes of Google and Apple are also interested in metadata. Pentland’s work began with counting Canadian beavers from outer space back in 1973. Since beavers were small, and satelites crude back in 1973, Pentland started counting beaver ponds instead. This is a great example of the use of indirect measures to try to find data that would otherwise be impractical to gather. Since then Pentland has been working on wearble technology like Google glasses, as well as on metadata in general:

The thing is, I can read most of your life from your metadata,” Pentland says. “And what’s worse, I can read your metadata from the people you interact with. I don’t have to see you at all.

Some might argue that this is scary stuff. But what has this to do with patents?

Metadata has long been used to help search for patents. Patent classification codes are a form of metadata, as are owner names. But patent classification codes can be very inaccurate, and company names can be limiting if you don’t know who is filing that patents you are looking for. Meanwhile other patent search techniques such as keyword searches can miss relevant patents if a different and unexpected terminology is used. 

There is another type of metadata analysis that can be applied to patents. Similar to the words of Pentland above, using the very valuable metadata found in patent citation links (which are interactions between patents) can determine similarity between patents, even when this similarity has been missed by others in the field. For example, consider how:

Some of the concepts used in these analysis to those believed to be similar to those being applied by the NSA to analyse phone and internet traffic (but to avoid doubt, Ambercite will only apply its algorithms to publically available patent and patent citation data!)

There are many other examples we could name about how Ambercite and its search system AmberScope has been used to find patents that made a major difference to our clients, as our clients are happy to tell us:

“My role is more directly analyzing patents including claims, infringement and prior art. AmberScope appears exceptional for identifying prior art from anything else I’ve seen.” – Paul Morinville, CEO at OrgStructure, US


Interested in applying metadata analysis to your patent searching? 

Ambercite provides a number of options for this:

1) AmberScope

Search the patent network using an inutitive interactive web app (click on the image for more information)


2) Automated patent searching

Our algorithms analyse patent citation data to determine the most similar listed and un-cited prior art.


3) Network Patent Analysis (NPA)

A whole series of advanced algorithms rank and group all of the patents in a targeted area of technology


Click on any of the above images, or contact us directly to find out how to apply advanced metadata analysis to assist your company.

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How valid is Tesla’s leading patent?

In an earlier and much read blog we reviewed the patent portfolio of Tesla, and concluded that their highest ranked patent was US7698078 for an Electric vehicle communication interface. This patent was filed on 18 July 2014, has a priority date of 15 June 2007, and has as its first claim:

1. A method of communicating with an electric vehicle, said method including the steps of:


  • installing a communication device in the electric vehicle;
  • establishing a connection from the vehicle to a network;
  • communicating with a user interface via said network; and
  • controlling and monitoring a battery in the electric vehicle via a device remote from the electric vehicle.



 But how valid is this patent? This will depend on the prior art, as a patent is only valid if it is novel and inventive over the prior art.  We can divide up this prior art into two categories, namely

  • Prior art either cited by the examiner or supplied by the applicant (“listed prior art”)
  • Prior art not cited by the examiner or applicant (“uncited prior art”). The benefit of the later type of prior art is that it can be used as the basis of re-examination and other actions at the patent office, as it does not have the protection of ‘file wrapper estopal’.

 Ambercite has recently developed a series of Automated Search Reports that can  

a) rank the listed prior art in a predicted order of similarity to the patent being searched on, and 

b) identify up to 60 uncited prior art documents that may be relevant to the patent being searched – and listed in likely order of similarity.

An Automated Search Report for US7698078 can be downloaded by clicking on the image shown below. But what did this search find?



Listed prior art

The 10 most similar listed prior patents were listed in Section 2 of the report. After reviewing these 10 patents, I think the only truly relevant patent is US6625539 for a method for Range prediction in fleet management of electric and fuel-cell vehicles. There was also a family member listed for the Tesla patent, which I have ignored at this may not be relevant as prior art.


Patent (hyperlinks to patent details)

Similarity Rank

Listed patent owner


Filing date

Amberscore (links to AmberScope)




Range prediction in fleet management of electric and fuel-cell vehicles




This discloses, in part, a method of managing power cell information resources of a non-petroleum fueled vehicle, particularly electric or fuel cell vehicles of a fleet of vehicles. However I could not find a reference to controlling the battery – instead only for monitoring the battery.

Uncited prior art

The uncited prior art is found in section 3 of the report. Altogether I believe that 10 of these patents (17%) are directly relevant to the Tesla patent. This list of relevant patents is headed by the predicted to be most similar patent, namely US7013205 for a System and method for minimizing energy consumption in hybrid vehicles. This patent was filed in 2004, published in March 2006, and discloses in part:

the system and method of the claimed invention enable optimization of the energy cost associated with the operation of such plug-in hybrid electric vehicles,

As noted above, some embodiments of the invention may locate the computer onboard the hybrid vehicle, while other embodiments may provide for the hybrid vehicle to be connected by wireless network or other means to a computer (including, but not limited to, a server) located somewhere else.

 The difference between a plug in hybrid and a pure electric vehicle is that a plug- in hybrid is an electric vehicle with a petrol motor as well – so the application for this patent is the same as the Tesla patent.

The rest of the 10 patents are listed in the table below

Patent (hyperlinks to patent details)

Predicted similarity Rank

Listed patent owner


Filing date

Amberscore (links to AmberScope)




System and method for minimizing energy consumption in hybrid vehicles






Method of charging a battery for an electric vehicle






Vehicle and information apparatus of vehicle






Electrical power generation system having means for managing the discharging and recharging of metal fuel contained within a network of metal-air fuel cell battery subsystems






Communication method and system for configuring electric powered vehicles






System and method for optimizing grid charging of an electric/hybrid vehicle






Methods and apparatus for dispensing a consumable energy source to a vehicle






Motor vehicle






System and method for monitoring and controlling energy usage






Control and diagnostics system and method for vehicles




So do these patents invalidate the Tesla patent? That is for others to decide, but in my view this prior art is pretty relevant, either from a novelty or obviousness viewpoint.


Invalidating patents you are concerned about

This simple example was able to identify 10 relevant but uncited prior art patents for a granted US patent, with the uncited prior art appearing to be at least as relevant as any of the listed prior art.

Ambercite is happy to supply a similar list of results for a patent you may want to invalidate. Pricing starts from $500 and we run these reports in about one or two business days.

 If you are unsure about the effectiveness of these reports, we are prepared to offer a money-back guarantee – if none of the uncited patents we find are relevant to the patent you are trying to invalidate, we will not charge you for the Automated Patent Search. 

Also a PDF version of the report that contains images and abstracts of each patent found is available upon request – please contact us for details or download a  sample of this report  (for an unrelated patent) if you are interested.


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