Petitioners Strike First: PTAB Issues First Final Decision – Claims Unpatentable and Motion to Amend Denied

Business Finish LineWe finally made it!  Almost 16 months after Garmin kicked off this fun IPR roller coaster we have been riding, the PTAB has issued its first Final Written Decision, finding that all three claims-at-issue in the IPR trial styled as Garmin Int’l, et al., v. Cuozzo Speed Tech. LLC, IPR2012-00001 (Paper 59), involving U.S. Patent No. 6,778,074, are unpatentable and that Patent Owner’s motion to amend is denied.

By way of brief procedural history, Petitioner initially sought an IPR trial on 20 claims of the ‘074 patent.  In its decision to institute the trial, however, the Board found that there was a reasonable likelihood of unpatentability with respect to 3 of the 20 challenged claims.  Of course, as the trial progressed, this case gave us the now ubiquitous Garmin factors for proving the required “good cause” to obtain additional discovery.

Turning to the actual decision, we note that the details of the technology involved, and other aspects of the ‘074 patent, were set forth in the Decision to Initiate.  As such, we focus here on what struck us as the most interesting aspects of the Board’s Final Written Decision:

  • In general, the Board’s extensive 50-page decision is detailed, well-sourced, and unambiguous.  The Board refers often to relevant Federal Circuit case law and to the record (such as deposition testimony, briefing, and oral hearing argument) as part of a methodical treatment of all the defenses raised by Patent Owner.
  • The meaning of the term “integrally attached” was a key component of both the Decision to Initiate and the Final Written Decision.  The Board did not change its definition from its initial decision to the final decision, despite Patent Owner’s strong opposition thereto (including at oral argument).
  • While ostensibly working under the “broadest reasonable interpretation” claim construction standard, the Board’s analysis mimics that engaged by a federal court – relying on the intrinsic evidence of the ‘074 patent.  There is nothing discernible from the decision that would indicate how a district court would have come to a different claim construction analysis than that adopted by the Board, despite the ostensibly different standards.
  • In coming to its claim construction decision, the Board discounted the expert testimony provided by Patent Owner because that testimony, regarding what one of skill would have known, was vague.  The Board could not discern “just how much is deemed to be described by the disclosure itself, and how much is filled-in or completed by one with ordinary skill in the art, who possesses ordinary creativity and is not an automaton.”  Order at 14. Further, “[w]hat would have been obvious to one with ordinary skill in the art does not establish what actually is described in the specification.”  Id.  This is an ongoing theme with the Board in their consideration of expert testimony – mere allegations that mimic attorney argument are not enough, even if coming through the mouth of an expert. The Board is requiring a detailed and factual basis for the opinions of these experts.
  • Patent Owner sought to constrain the Board’s construction of “integrally attached” by referring to a district court case that construed “integrally connected.”  The Board explained why the terms were different, in the context of this IPR, but also more broadly suggested that comparison of two terms from different proceedings will not be given much weight in the future.  To that end, the Board pointed out that the patents had different disclosures; the field of invention is not the same; the level of ordinary skill in the art was different; the context in which the terms were used in the claims was not discussed by Patent Owner; and, of course, the terms “connected” and “attached” are different.  Order at 16-17.
  • The Board engaged in an extensive discussion relating to the priority date of the invention, including evidence of earlier conception and reduction to practice.  Among that evidence included a denial of Patent Owner’s use of a speeding ticket as corroborating evidence: “Exhibit 3001 corroborates only that the inventor received a speeding ticket on November 28, 1999, not anything that [inventor] conceived on that day.”  Order at 21.  As to other purported corroborating evidence, Patent Owner did not offer the testimony of a witness who purportedly signed the document and did not properly establish the document as a business record.  Order at 23.
  • The Board went on to discuss the inventor’s reasonable diligence in reducing his invention to practice, finding inadequate justification for two periods of “little activity” – one period spanning 2 months, and the other spanning 5 months.  Order at 25.  As a cautionary note, the Board found that Patent Owner’s excuse for the delay – a difficulty in obtaining money to file for patent protection – may have been satisfactory.  In this case, however, the delay was deemed too long because Patent Owner did not adequately explain such difficulties in obtaining the required money.  Order at 27.  Again, the lack of a factual basis for a position.
  • The Board’s ultimate comparison of the properly construed claims to the prior art was similar to the analysis from its Decision to Institute.  Ultimately, having decided the “integrally attached” claim construction issue, the art disclosed each element of the challenged claims and the Board did not accept Patent Owner’s teaching away arguments.
  • Lastly, the Motion to Amend Claims was denied by the Board because the amended claims did not have adequate support in the specification.  Failing the written description requirement of 35 USC § 112, ¶1, the motion was denied.

In the end, the Board’s first Final Written Decision contains few surprises.  As has been the case in their decisions to institute, and other ancillary decisions, the Board undertook a thorough job of examining the merits, took unambiguous positions on those merits, and rendered a decision that is comprehensive and detailed.  Next stop on this IPR ride: the Federal Circuit.

37 for 42: Previously-Considered Art Lives Again in Grant of Inter Partes Review Trial

iStock_000014464933XSmallThe 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.