David Tropp sued Travel Sentry for patent infringement back in 2006. That was the same year that I first taught a patent law class. Back then, eligibility was almost an unknown concept in patent litigation. The rule of thumb was “anything under the sun, made by man,” and I mean ANYTHING. But as we crawled into the 2010s, eligibility emerged as a powerful tool to invalidate issued patent claims–including Tropp’s covering covering a TSA-approved luggage lock. The basic idea here is to give TSA a master key, or as the district court suggested: “using and marketing a dual-access lock for luggage inspection.”
Tropp recently petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a writ of certiorari on the following question:
Inventor David Tropp owns and practices two patents that disclose a solution to the problem of screening all passenger luggage for flights originating in the United States, following the September 11 attacks. Through a series of specific claimed steps, his patents describe a method of providing consumers with special dual-access luggage locks that a screening entity would access in accordance with a special procedure and corresponding key controlled by the luggage screening entity, all while allowing the luggage to remain locked following screening.
The question presented is: Whether the claims at issue in Tropp’s patents reciting physical rather than computer-processing steps are patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101, as interpreted in Alice Corp Pty v. CLS Bank Int’l, 573 U.S. 208 (2014).
Tropp Petition. The parties agreed that the following claim is representative:
1. A method of improving airline luggage inspection by a luggage screening entity, comprising:
making available to consumers a special lock having a combination lock portion and a master key lock portion, the master key lock portion for receiving a master key that can open the master key lock portion of this special lock, the special lock designed to be applied to an individual piece of airline luggage, the special lock also having an identification structure associated therewith that matches an identification structure previously provided to the luggage screening entity, which special lock the luggage screening entity has agreed to process in accordance with a special procedure,
marketing the special lock to the consumers in a manner that conveys to the consumers that the special lock will be subjected by the luggage screening entity to the special procedure,
the identification structure signaling to a luggage screener of the luggage screening entity who is screening luggage that the luggage screening entity has agreed to subject the special lock associated with the identification structure to the special procedure and that the luggage screening entity has a master key that opens the special lock, and
the luggage screening entity acting pursuant to a prior agreement to look for the identification structure while screening luggage and, upon finding said identification structure on an individual piece of luggage, to use the master key previously provided to the luggage screening entity to, if necessary, open the individual piece of luggage.