The Board has again failed to toss aside argument and art previously considered by the Patent Office (this time in an ex parte reexamination) and, instead, instituted an inter partes review trial on all six challenged claims in a case styled Nexans, Inc. v. Belden Technologies, Inc. (IPR2013-00057), involving US Pat. No. 6,074,503. Four of 9 proposed grounds for challenge were granted in the Board’s decision.
The invention of the ‘503 patent involves a method of producing a cable. The method includes a step of passing a plurality of transmission media such as wires and a core through a first die which aligns the plurality of transmission media with surface features of the core and prevents twisting motion of the core. The method includes another step of bunching the aligned plurality of transmission media and core using a second die which forces each of the plurality of transmission media into contact with the surface features of the core. The bunched plurality of transmission media and core are twisted close to the cable, and the closed cable is jacketed.
Patent Owner first argued that because three of the references contained in the petition were already considered by the examiner in a prior ex parte reexamination which resulted in confirmation of the claims, the Board should deny those portions of the petition. The Board cited 35 U.S.C. § 325(d) and stated the statute gives the Director the authority not to institute review on the basis that the same or substantially the same prior art or arguments were presented previously to the USPTO, but does not require so. Because the Patent Challenger’s alleged unpatentability grounds have some merit, the Board declined to deny the petition under 35 U.S.C. § 325(d). Order at 8. This continues a trend of the Board’s willingness to consider references even if they were previously considered during original prosecution or a reexamination.
The Board then turned to its claim construction analysis and interpreted the terms “core” and “prevents twisting motion of the core.” Basing its definition of “core” strictly on the specification of the ‘503 patent, the Board found that the term “core” does not have to have a bulky or extensive cross-section and there is no reason to exclude structure in the form of thin tape from forming or constituting the core. The Board also determined that “prevents twisting motion of the core” was met by the prevention of twisting in the area where the core passes through the first die once the desired position of the core for alignment during production is established. Thus, twisting of the core need not be prevented (1) at all places along the axial length of the core, or (2) before the desired alignment of the core has been determined and put in place and cable production has commenced.
The Board then considered several grounds asserting anticipation of the challenged claims. To that end, Patent Challenger argued that a prior art reference disclosed a branching board of a first die which inherently prevented twisting of the core. The Board rejected the argument, stating that because the disclosure does not show an axial view of the branding board in the direction of cable feed, it could not be known what manner the core passes through the branching board. To establish inherent disclosure, the limitation at issue necessarily must be present in the corresponding element described in the prior art reference. Inherency may not be established by probabilities or possibilities. The mere fact that a certain thing may result from a given set of circumstances is not sufficient to establish inherency. Order at 26. The Board found that even if the branching board, in some circumstances, prevented twisting of the core, the possibility is inadequate to establish inherent disclosure of twist prevention.
In the obviousness challenge grounds analysis, the Board determined that inserting an additional die upstream of a wire-splitting board of the assembly of a prior art reference involved merely a predictable use of a prior art element disclosed in other references. Further, Board held that such a combination need not be predicated on any specific teachings; that is, the Board “need not seek out precise teachings directed to the specific subject matter of the challenged claim, for a court can take account of the inferences and creative steps that a person of ordinary skill in the art would employ.” Order at 33.
Patent Owner sought exclusion of one of the Patent Challenger’s exhibits on the ground that it constituted inadmissible hearsay. The exhibit is a collection of selected trial transcripts from related litigation, including the testimony of an expert witness. The Board stated that exclusion of evidence at this stage of the proceeding is premature. Order at 41. In any event, the exhibit appeared to have been relied on by the Patent Challenger only in connection with arguments regarding a reference that was not applied as a basis for any granted challenge grounds.
In the end, the Board instituted trial on all challenged claims including, notably, some challenge grounds that used a reference that was previously considered during an ex parte reexamination.